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Full text of "Reference Series Volume 9 Issue 1"

CPU CRITICAL INFO FOR COMPUTER POWER USERS 



I 



1M\ 



Reference Series 



i 





CRANK IT, CUT IT, COOL IT! 




CPU & Chlpsar 
Combos 

Does Cheap 
Mean Chump? 

We Review A Dozen 
Sub-$100 Graphics Cards 




ZALMAN 

Zalman USA, Inc. 




kTNN 500AF ^ilabl 

Completely Noiseless System 
Semi-permanent & Long-Lasting 
High-Efficiency Power Supply 
Dramatically Reduces Dust Accumulation 
Shields Electromagnetic Interference 
Foundation for a Stable System 
Reduces Maintenance Cost 
Uses Environmentally Friendly Components 





Fanless Water Cooling System Reserator 1 



i The world's first fanless water cooling 

system 
i Optimized design for excellent natural 

convection cooling 
i Convenient 3-in-1 design (Reservoir, 

Pump, Radiator) 
. Compatible CPU Socket : 

775, 478, 462, 754, 939, 940 




CPU Water Block 
ZM-WB2 Gold 



VGA Water Block 
ZM-GW81 (option) 



Water Pump 
(Built into Reserator) 



High Performance 

ULTRA QUIET CPU COOLER CNPS7700 

Supports both Intel & AMD (Socket 775, 478, 754, 939, 940) 

• Does not generate noise or vibration in Silent Mode. 

• Pure Copper and Pure Aluminum base materials 
ensure excellent heat dissipation. 

• Intel Pentium 4 (Socket 478/775), AMD Sempron/ 
AMD64 (Socket 754/939/940) compatible design for broad 
compatibility. 

• 1 20mm fan inside the FHS maximizes airflow and makes 
installation easier. 

• Adjustable fan speed controller (FAN MATE 2) enables 
control of noise and fan performance. 



Quiet VGA Cooler ZM80D-HP 

■ This product was designed to optimize heat dissipation 
for excellent cooling performance. 

• Dual heatpipes increase heat transfer speed and enhance 
the cooling efficiency. 

• The fanless design ensures completely noiseless and 
maintenance- free operation. 

• RAM heatsinks for cooling the VGA RAM. 

• Optional ZM-OP1 recommended for higher-end VGA cards. 




QUIET CPU COOLER CNPS7000B/LED 

Supports both INTEL & AMD (Socket 478, 462, 754, 939, 940) 



• Does not generate noise or vibration in Silent Mode. 

• Pure Copper and Pure Aluminum base materials 
ensure excellent heat dissipation. 

• 92mm fan inside the FHS maximizes airflow and makes 
installation easier. 

• Adjustable fan speed controller {FAN MATE 2) enables 
control of noise and fan performance. 

■ To use this product on Socket 775, ZM-CS1 must be 
purchased separately. 



Option Clip Support ZM-CS1 





O 



• This Clip Support allows the installation of CNPS7000 
series onto Socket 775 




Please see website for complete list of "Where To Buy" 

Contact: Zalman USA, Inc. 

10531 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, CA 92843 
(888)ZALMAN-6 (714) 530-0700 / http://www.zalmanusa.com 



PC Modeler 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



CPU Special Issue v2.0 



Modding is part science and part 
art. The science involves over- 
clocking, adjusting processor set- 
tings and memory timings to crank up your 
computer's power. The art is taking raw com- 
ponents made of silicon, plastic, and steel, 
and combining them into a satisfying, visual 
feast. A modded PC is definitely not some- 
thing you hide under a desk or tuck away in 
some dark corner. Mods are meant to be tin- 
kered with and admired. Whether you mod 
your computer for performance or for beauty, 
you'll find this issue is filled to bursting with 
practical tips, critical technical information, 
and all the latest hardware. 



FIRST-TIMERS 



20 Things To Watch Out For The 
First Time You Overclock A PC 

Tips & Warnings To Make Your 
First Overclock Successful 

20 Tips To Help Chill Your CPU With Water 

Watercooling 101 



10 20 Things To Watch Out For 

The First Time You Vanity Mod A PC 

Artistic Modding By The Numbers 

13 Being Dean "EnVaDoR" Liou 

Inside The Mind Of An Extreme Modder 

THE PARTS SHOP 



15 Top Of The Line From AMD 

AMD's Latest 64-bit Processor 

16 Top Of The Line From Intel 

Intel's 3.46GHz P4 EE with HT Technology 




17 The Bus Rolls On 

Intel's 925XE Express Chipset 

18 Flexibile Chipset, Single-Channel 

The SiS 649 Chipset Offers A Memory Upgrade Path 

19 Express Your Multimedia 

VIA's K8T890 Chipset 

20 PCI Express & Then Some 

NVIDIA's nForce4 Chipset 

21 The Fastest RAM From OCZ 

OCZ Technologies Charges Ahead With Fast DDR2 

22 Mushkin's Fastest RAM 

Mushkin Enters The DDR2 Market With PC2-4200 

23 Corsair's Fastest RAM 

Corsair's PC2-5400 Offers 675MHz Frequency 

24 The Mad Modder's Toolkit 

Mini-Reviews, Meanderings, & Musings 




CASE STUDIES 




31 Take It To The Limit 

We Overclock A Slew Of New Processors 
Intel 

32 Intel Pentium 4 540 & Soltek SL-91 5Pro-FGR 

34 Intel Pentium 4 540 & ABIT AG8 

36 Intel Pentium 4 540 & MSI 925X Neo Platinum 

38 Intel Pentium 4 550 & Foxconn 91 5M03-G-8EKRS2 

40 Intel Pentium 4 550 & MSI 91 5P Neo2 Platinum 

42 Intel Pentium 4 550 & Gigabyte GA-8ANXP-D 

44 Intel Pentium 4 560 & MSI 91 5G Combo-FR 

46 Intel Pentium 4 560 & ASUS P5GD2 Deluxe 

48 Intel Pentium 4 560 & ABIT AA8 DuraMAX 

50 Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition & 
Gigabyte GA-8I915G Pro 

52 Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition & 
Chaintech V915P Zenith VE 

54 Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition & ASUS 
P5AD2 

AMD 

56 AMD Sempron 2800+ & SOYO KT880 Dragon 2 



58 AMD Sempron 2800+ & DFI LANParty NFII Ultra B 

60 AMD Sempron 2800+ & MSI K7N2 
Delta2 Platinum Edition 

62 AMD Sempron 3100+ & EPoX EP-8KDA3+ 

64 AMD Sempron 3100+ &SOYO 

SY-K8USA Dragon Ultra Black Label 

66 AMD Sempron 3100+ & ASUS K8V SE Deluxe 

68 AMD Athlon 64 3800+ & Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 

70 AMD Athlon 64 3800+ & MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 

72 AMD Athlon 64 3800+ & 

MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum Edition 

74 AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 & ABIT AV8-3rdEye 

76 AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 & ASUS A8V Deluxe 

78 AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 & 

Gigabyte GA-K8NSNXP-939 

Graphics Cards 

80 Budget Graphics Galore 

The Lowdown On 12 Video Cards Under $100 

81 Albatron NVIDIA GeForce PCX 5300 

82 Apollo GeForce 4 MX440-8X 

83 Chaintech NVIDIA Geforce FX5700 LE 

84 eVGA NVIDIA GeForce FX5200 

85 Gainward NVIDIA GeForce FX5200 

86 MSI GeForce MX4000-T1 28 

87 GeCube ATI Radeon 9550 

88 HIS Excalibur 9250 

89 Jetway ATI Radeon 9200LE 

90 Jetway ATI Radeon 9550 (256MB) 

91 PowerColor X300 SE 

92 Transcend ATI Radeon 9600SE 



CRANK IT 



93 Race For The Gold 

AMD vs. Intel For The Performance Crown 



99 Clash Of The Titans 

ATI & NVIDIA Put Their Newest Horses On The Track 

106 SLI Unleashed 

Dual Graphics Will Rock Your Socks Off 

110 Speed vs Precision 

ECC Memory Protects Data At The Cost Of Speed 

112 What A Difference A Pin Makes 

We Compare The Performance Of 
Socket 939 & 940 Systems 

1 1 5 The Many Faces of 2.8 

We Test (Almost) Every 2.8GHz CPU Under The Sun 

121 Memory Moves To Massive Frequencies 

We Put Several DDR2 Modules To The Test 

127 Wrong-Way RAM 

We Destroy Expensive Memory For Your Benefit 

132 Clocking Corner 

Make Your PC Sizzle 



in in 



:l. 



COOL IT 



1 34 Get Your Juices Flowing 

Watercooling Kits, Compared & Contrasted 

139 Airflow Control 

Fan Controllers Reviews & Tips 

1 43 Coolin 1 Down That GPU 

Third-Party Heatsinks & Waterblocks 



148 The Soundless PC 

Use These Tips To Quiet Your Computer's Roar 

152 Fans Case Study 

How Many You Need & Where To Put Them 

155 Chill Chat 

Cooling Q&A 




CUT IT 




1 57 Case Cutters 

Say Hello To Strider 

162 Mod(ern)Art 

Dremel Masters Showcase Their Skills 

169 See What You've Been Missing 

Cut Fancy, Complicated Case Windows 

174 The Paint Booth 

Advanced Tips For Fantastic Finishes 



JUST FOR FUN 



176 It's In The Cables 

Wake Up & Wire Right 

179 Extreme Makeover 

Before & After PSU & Cabling Project 

183 Fan Art 

Our Favorite Fan Covers & Grilles 

1 85 Wi-Fi That Really Cooks 

Raid The Kitchen For Greater Range 

MODDER'S LIBRARY 




188 Intel CPU Reference 

New Processors By Another Name 

190 AMD CPU Reference 

New CPUs Present & Future 



Editorial Staff: Ronald D. Kobler/Samit Gupta 
Choudhuri / Corey Russman / Rod Scher / 
Christopher Trumble / Calvin Clinchard / Katie 
Sommer / Kimberly Fitzke / Katie Dolan / Blaine 
Flamig / Raejean Brooks / Rebecca Christensen / 
Tara Weber / Sally Curran / Michael Sweet / Nate 
Hoppe / Jennifer Suggitt / Trista Kunce / Sheila 
Allen / Linne Ourada / Liz Dixon / Marty Sems / 
Chad Denton / Nathan Chandler/ Kylee Dickey / 
Josh Gulick / Andrew Leibman / Vince Cogley / 
Sam Evans 

Web Staff: Missy Fletcher / Dorene Krausnick / 
Nick Ray / Laura Curry 
Customer Service: Alisha Lamb / Brandie 
Humphrey / Becky Rezabek/ Lana Matic / 
Lindsay Albers 

Subscription Renewals: Liz Kohout/ Connie 
Beatty / Matt Boiling / Patrick Kean / Charmaine 
Vondra / Miden Ebert / Kathy DeCoito / 
Stephanie Contreras / Nicole Buckendahl /Travis 
Brock 

Art & Design: Lesa Call / Fred Schneider / Carrie 
Benes / Ginger Riley / Sonja Warner /Leigh 
Trompke / Aaron Weston /Aaron Clark/ Kelli 
Lambertsen / Lori Garris / Jason Codr / Andria 
Schultz/ Erin Rodriguez/ Lindsay Anker 
Newsstand: Garth Lienemann / Kelly Richardson 
/ Chris McGreer / Jeff Schnittker 
Advertising Sales: Grant Ossenkop / Cindy 
Pieper / Brooke Wolzen / Eric Cobb / Emily 
Getzschman 

Marketing: Mark Peery/ Marcy Gunn /Amber 
Coffin / Jen Clausen / Scot Banks / Ashley 
Hannant/Luke Vavricek 



192 Intel-Compatible Chipset Reference 

New Technologies Fuel A Flurry Of Chipset Introductions 

194 AMD-Compatible Chipset Reference 

New Chipsets From ATI, NVIDIA, ULi, and VIA 

196 Mobo Sampler 

18 Manufacturers' Top Motherboards 

214 DDR2ForYou 

The Top DDR2 Modules Currently Available 



MODDING Q&A 



217 ModdingQ&A 

We Answer Your Pressing Questions 



INDEX 



223 Manufacturers & Products 



FINAL BUILD 



224 Doomed PC? 

Doom 3 Inspires A Sinister System 



Copyright 2005 bv Sandhills Publishing Company- All rights 
reserved. Reproduction of material appearing in Smart Computing 
REFERENCE SERIES: PC Modder is strictly prohibited without 
written permission. Printed in the U.S.A. GST # 
123482788RT0001. Smart Computing is published monthly by 
Sandhills Publishing Company. 131 West Grand Drive, P.O. Box 
85380, Lincoln, NE 68501. POSTMASTER: Send address changes 
to Smart Computing, P.O. Box 85380, Lincoln, NE 68501. 



Web Services 

(For questions about our Web site.) 

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Publishing- 



C M O D D E R 



20 Things 

To Watch Out For The First Time 

YOU OVERCLOCK A PC 

Tips & Warnings To Make Your First Overclock Successful 



Overclocking is sport for some, a way to improve sys- 
tem performance for others, and a cost-saving mea- 
sure for other users. If this is your first venture into 
overclocking, you probably want some pointers on overclocking 
properly and some warnings about actions that may damage 
your system. The following 20 guidelines should provide a gen- 
eral reference, explaining what you need to know and what you 
should watch out for when overclocking a PC for the first time. 




1 Although overclocking can boost system perfor- 
mance, it isn't an option for many computers. 
Some motherboards lock users out of the settings 
that an overclocker must tweak in the BIOS. If you 
build a computer yourself, you can probably over- 
clock your system, but if you bought a prebuilt 
computer, such as a Dell or HP, there's a good 
chance the company locked the overclock settings. 

2 If this is the first time you've overclocked a 
system, you might want to practice with an 
older PC rather than with your primary comput- 
er. The procedure will probably vary between the 
two systems, so don't think of it as a trial run. 
Instead, performing your first overclock with a 
spare machine will help you get your feet wet 
and learn to detect problems. It is good, afterall, 
to build your confidence before making risky 
moves with your top-of-the-line gaming system. 

3 Stay away from Intel-branded motherboards if 
you want to overclock because BIOS options 
for overclocking are usually fairly limited. This is 
not to say, however, that Intel's processors are not 
overclocker-friendly. In fact, some of our best over- 
clocks have been with modern Intel processors. 
Third-party motherboards by manufacturers such 
as ASUS ( www.asus.com ) and MSI ( www.msicom 
puter.com ) have yielded much better results, 
though, than Intel's overclock-stingy boards. 

4 Not all motherboards are created equal. Not 
only do some boards perform better during 
overclocking, some incorporate features that aid 
the powermodder in the quest for speed. For 
example, some motherboards include a POST-sta- 
tus LED, a small display that is soldered onto the 



motherboard. The LED displays various 
codes during startup and operation. If 
you overclock your PC, and then it won't 
POST, the POST-status LED's codes 
may provide insight into where the error 
occurred. Motherboards may also have 
built-in temperature and voltage monitors 
and even tools for automatically adjusting 
fan speeds. 



5 If you build a system solely for over- 
clocking, you may wish to avoid 
groundbreaking technologies. As a 
technology matures, components are 
perfected for more stable operation. 
This is why you may find that DDR 
allows for more stable overclocks 
than the newer DDR2. If you will 
use your computer for day-to-day use 
and not just for overclocking, how- 
ever, you will probably want to em- 
brace the newer technologies. 



model and frequency. Just because one 
Intel 520 P4 (3.2GHz) overclocks to 
3.5GHz does not mean that your Intel 
520 will overclock to 3.5GHz. Your 
processor may manage over 3.6GHz, 
or it may not even reach 3.3GHz. One 
of the riskiest things that you can do 
is assume that your processor will 
achieve the same overclock as someone 
else's. It is always important to adjust 
the FSB in small increments and to 
overclock conservatively. 



the limit, you are putting not only your 
system but also its contained data at risk. 
For this reason, if you use your PC for 
any purpose other than recreational over- 
clocking, it is very important that you 
create a backup of your data before you 
begin overclocking. 



12 



6 Look for later revisions of proces- 
sors. If you have the choice be- 
tween buying an Intel 2.8C GHz and 
a 2.8E GHz Pentium 4 processor, you 
will probably want the 2.8E GHz 
CPU because it is a newer revision of ~~ 
the 2.8GHz P4. In general, each successive 
revision is more refined (and, if nothing 
else, faster) than the last. 



7 Keep in mind that overclocking pro- 
cedures vary from board to board. To 
overclock most modern motherboards, 
enter the BIOS setup utility (this re- 
quires pressing a designated key, such as 
DELETE) and adjust the FSB setting. If 
the option is grayed out, either your sys- 
tem does not allow overclocking or you 
need to enable the overclocking tools. 
For instance, at its default settings, the 
ASUS P5AD2 Deluxe's overclocking 
options are grayed out. After enabling 
the Jumper Free Configuration in the 
BIOS utility, you can adjust the FSB and 
several other settings, unleashing the 
board's strong overclocking abilities. 




Running benchmarks 
such as Futuremark's 
PCMark04, can help 



you determine the performance and stability of an 
overclocked system. 



9 Although your processor will not over- 
clock to the same level as someone 
else's, you will still find it helpful to learn 
more about the results others have 
achieved with your processor (or other 
components). You can find others' over- 
clocking results by reading publications, 
such as PC Modder and CPU, and ac- 
counts of overclocking adventures in 
forums and powermodding sites. 



10 



Most manufacturers do not support 
overclocking. Even those manufac- 
turers that build overclocking features 
into their products generally do not 
extend warranty coverage to those same 
components if overclocked. If anything 
goes wrong, you will need to have money 
on hand to replace damaged parts. 



The basic equation you need to 
know when overclocking is multi- 
plier x FSB = clock speed. You can 
determine the multiplier using this 
equation. For instance, an 
Athlon 64 FX-55 has a 2.6GHz 
clock speed. The effective system 
bus is 400MHz. Because the 
Athlon 64 FX is quad-pumped, 
the base speed of the bus 
is 100MHz. Therefore, you 
know that multiplier x 
100MHz = 2.6GHz. When 
we divide 2600MHz by 
100MHz, we see that the 
multiplier is 26. You can 
read more about the Athlon 
64 FX-55 in "Top Of The 
Line From AMD" on page 15. 

In another example, Intel's 3.4GHz 
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is the first 
Intel processor to feature a 1066MHz 
bus. (You can read more about this 
processor in "Top Of the Line From 
Intel" on page 16.) Once again, the bus 
is quad-pumped, so we will use 
1066MHz divided by four (233MHz) 
for our equation: multiplier x 233MHz 
= 3.46GHz. When we divide 3460MHz 
by 233 MHz, we find a multiplier of 
14.8. Now, if you could successfully 
increase the FSB from 233MHz to 
238MHz, the processor would run at 
3.52GHz (14.8 x238MHz). 



13 



8 



One of the most important things to 
realize is that your processor is one of 
a kind. There is none other quite like it, 
including other processors of the same 



11 



Backing up your data is a standard 
recommendation for any computer 
owner, but it's especially important for 
overclockers. Overclocking can damage 
components, so when you push a PC to 



Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark. 

By running benchmarks, such as 
Futuremark's PCMark04, you can deter- 
mine not only the performance of an over- 
clocked system but also how stable your PC 
is in its overclocked state. For instance, 
when overclocking DDR2 memory in 
"Memory Moves To Massive Frequencies" 
on page 121, we often found that our sys- 
tem would operate fine at a high overclock 
but that the PCMark04 benchmark would 



CPU / PC Modder 5 



encounter errors. By catching stability 
problems early, you can drop the FSB to a 
stable level before placing too much strain 
on components. 

mi* In addition to running bench- 
It* marks, some overclockers also run 
programs such as GIMPS (Great Internet 
Mersenne Prime Search) Prime95 23.8 
( mersenne.org/prime.htm ) or JAM Soft- 
ware HeavyLoad 2.0 ( www.jam-soft 
ware.com ) to determine system stability. 
If your system can run Prime95 for a 
couple of hours, you have a good indica- 
tion that your system is stable at its over- 
clocked settings. Ideally, though, you 
should let a program such as Prime95 
run overnight. 



mm It can be very tempting to 
I J continue to use your system at 
its overclocked settings if the system 
is still operational but experiences 
occasional errors. However, if appli- 
cations crash unexpectedly or other 
abnormal events occur, one of your 
components cannot handle the 
overclock. Continued operation at 
this level will place undue strain on 
components over time, increasing 
the likelihood of damaging the 
motherboard, CPU, memory, or 
video card. 



«£ When you encounter stabili- Some 
Iw ty problems with an over- status 

clocked system, you can either 

decrease the FSB or increase the 
voltage. Be aware, though, that boosting 
the voltage can cause excess heat and 
damage your system's parts, so you 
should increase the voltage in small 
increments, such as 0.025V. Tweaking 
the voltage will result in more aggressive 
overclocks, while lowering the FSB will 
give you safer, more conservative over- 
clocks. As a side note, usually an appli- 
cation will crash while loading or per- 
forming a processor- or memory-inten- 
sive task. If, however, a crash occurs 
when no especially taxing process is run- 
ning, the PC might be overheating, and 
in this case, dropping the core voltage 
may improve the PC's stability. 



n Locate the Clear CMOS jumper, 
sometimes called the Reset BIOS 
jumper or switch. This is a jumper on the 
motherboard that you can move to a desig- 
nated position in order to restore the default 
BIOS settings. Make sure you locate this 
jumper. That way, if your system will not 
POST after you change a BIOS setting, you 
have a way to restore the BIOS to its origi- 
nal state and boot the computer. 

WOne of the wisest moves an over- 
clocker can make is to keep an eye 
on system temperatures. Many mother- 
boards have built-in BIOS utilities to 
monitor temperatures and adjust fan 
speeds accordingly. You may wish to 




page 152), fan controllers (see "Airflow 
Control" on page 139), or a watercool- 
ing kit (see "20 Tips To Help Chill Your 
CPU With Water" on page 7 and "Get 
Your Juices Flowing" on page 134). 

*%/\ Finally, don't forget about memo- 
MM ry. When you increase the FSB, 
you overclock the memory, as well as the 
processor. DDR operates at the same fre- 
quency as the FSB but is dual-pumped, 
so if the FSB is set at 200MHz, 
DDR400 or faster will run at 400MHz. 
DDR2 is quad-pumped and operates at a 
2:3 memory-to-CPU ratio, so if your 
FSB is set at 200MHz, DDR2-533 or 
faster will operate at 533MHz (200MHz 
FSBx4x2/3). 

It is quite common to overclock 
the memory and processor simul- 
taneously. However, if you wish to 
overclock only one component at 
a time, you may need to change 
the memory-to-CPU ratio so that 
the memory operates within its 
spec. For example, if you install 
DDR2-533 and wish to increase 
the FSB from 200MHz to 
250MHz, you could change the 
memory-to-CPU ratio from 2:3 to 
1:2. Here, the memory would 
overclock to only 500MHz 
(250MHzFSBx4xl/2). 



motherboards, such as the Tyan Tiger K8W, have a POST- 
LED to help you determine where POST errors occur. 



enable these options to make your over- 
clocking less risky. If your motherboard 
does not automatically make adjustments 
for heat, you can lower temperatures by 
reducing the FSB, reducing the voltage, 
or installing an alternate cooling device. 
For more information about alternate 
cooling, see the six articles in the "Cool 
It" section, which starts on page 134. 

WAs we mentioned in the last tip, 
sometimes stock fans are not 
enough to cool an overclocked system 
adequately. In this case, you may wish to 
consider a third-party heatsink, addition- 
al case fans (see "Fans Case Study" on 



Ready To Overclock 

These guidelines will help you 

through your first overclocking 

experience. Once you're comfort- 
able with basic overclocking, you may 
wish to experiment with more advanced 
overclocking methods. The next article 
will offer some insight into some of the 
ways you can push your system even fur- 
ther. Regardless of which overclocking 
methods you use, remember that the key 
is to overclock gradually so that you can 
make adjustments at the first sign of 
trouble. Overclocking is more of an 
art than a science, and with practice, 
you will learn how to get the most 
from your system. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



6 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



20 Tips to help chill 

Your CPU With Water 

Watercooling 101 




When you finally get serious 
about overclocking, you'll 
learn to take CPU cooling 
systems seriously, too, or pay the price in 
fried processors and heat-exhausted moth- 
erboards. Although there are plenty of 
cooling options available, most overclock- 
ers who don't settle for passive cooling 
keep their chips cool through the use of a 
watercooling system. If you're new to the 
watercooling scene, you're in for a treat. 
You'll see that you can pick up various 
components and mix and match them to 
create a customized system that's ideal for 
your needs. But while you're planning 
and constructing your new system, take 
our 20 watercooling tips to heart; other- 
wise, that nice new cooling system might 
get you into some hot water. 

IMany retailers offer watercooling kits 
and even PC cases with preassembled 
watercooling parts inside. These products 
are convenient, but stores charge more 
for these kits, and they also often include 
parts that you don't need. Pick and choose 
your own components to save a lot of cash. 



2 As you shop for components, you'll 
notice that most conform to the 1/2- 
inch or 3/8-inch standard — these numbers 
indicate the inner diameter of a system's 
various hoses and connectors. You can use 
adapters to connect parts with disparate 
sizes, but for the sake of simplicity, it's best 
to stick with a single diameter. Using one 
component size also results in smoother 
waterflow and better cooling efficiency. 

3 If your budget allows, use copper 
(rather than aluminum) waterblocks 
because copper is denser and transfers heat 
faster. If you can't afford more than one 
copper component, don't save cash by 




mixing and matching your copper with 
cheaper aluminum parts. Doing so can 
cause a reaction that will make these metals 
corrode much faster than usual. If you 
absolutely must mix aluminum and copper 
components in the same loop, use an anti- 
oxidant mix, such as Water Wetter. 

4 Use only distilled water in your water- 
cooling system. Tap water contains 
nasties that cause clouding, which doesn't 
hurt anything but certainly detracts from 
the aesthetic appeal of clear hoses. Also, tap 
water's impurities can and will eventually 
cause buildup inside your system, and any 
sort of slowdowns or blockages (especially 
inside a waterblock) will reduce cooling 
efficiency. Be sure to pour an anti-algae 
additive into your system because distilled 
water makes a great home for certain 
organisms that will make components look 
as if they were made from ectoplasm; fortu- 
nately, most coolants contain an anti-algae 
mix. As a final tip, don't forget your black- 
light because many of these additives react 
to UV light with a strong glow. 

5 Water temperatures will vary de- 
pending on the placement of the 
pump. In general, you should have water 
move from the pump to the radiator, then 
to your waterblocks, and then back to 
the pump again. For the coolest possible 
water, divert the radiator output directly 
to your hot components. 

6 The hoses that come with watercooling 
kits are typically very tough to cut. As a 
result, scissors won't slice neatly through the 
material, and often, new users wind up with 
bedraggled, rough ends. To make clean 
cuts, forego scissors and razor blades and use 
a pair of sharp wire cutters. If the ends of 



Plastic clamps such as this one are OK for 
securing hoses, but metal clamps are quite 
a bit tougher. 



CPU / PC Modder 7 




your hoses don't look smooth, compress the 
hose against a hard surface and carefully use 
a utility knife to trim away excess material. 

7 You can use several clamp types to 
secure hoses to the barbs on pumps 
and reservoirs. Some systems include metal 
bands that you can cinch tight with a built- 
in screw. Others use flimsier plastic clamps 
that you tighten with a pair of pliers. And 
some high-end components don't use 
clamps at all. Instead, they include push- 
type, outer diameter fittings. To use this 
type of fitting, you simply push the hose 
into the waterblock, and the fitting holds 
tight. To release the hose, you push in on 
the fitting itself until the hose slides free. 
This concept works very well, but if your 
hose ends are at all jagged, there's a po- 
tential for leaks. We prefer more basic 
waterblocks where we can use metal clamps 
cinched just tight enough to stay put. 

8 Hoses come in many materials, includ- 
ing nylon, vinyl, and silicone, and you 
can also find brand-name hose types, such 
as ClearFlex and Tygon, which are much 
more expensive. Each of these materials 
brings different traits to a PC watercooling 
system, and you'll have to adjust your con- 
struction techniques depending on the hose 
you use. Hoses with a vinyl base tend to be 
more rigid, but they're tough and resist 
punctures and cuts. On the other hand, 
rigid hoses sometimes kink more easily, and 
a kinked line will increase the chances of 
leak and reduce your system's cooling 
power. Very flexible hoses won't take as 
much abuse, but tend to be easier to use, as 
you can push them around inside your case 
when you're working with other parts. 
That said, we prefer tough, large diameter 



Coolants typically contain anticorrosion 
ingredients, but not all have algae inhibitors. 
Be sure to use an anti-algae fluid to prevent 
nasty growths in your system. 



11 



hoses, partly because of their strength and 
partly because they look really, really cool. 

9 Before cutting into your hoses, per- 
form a dry run by holding the hose up 
to your components. Keep in mind that 
while you want a little slack in your maze 
of hoses, you don't want them so long that 
they dangle onto hot parts, wreak havoc on 
fan blades, or obstruct your case's side 
panel. Cut hoses too long instead of too 
short because you can always remove 
excess material when necessary. When you 
order tubing, buy at least five feet, but no 
more than 10 feet, as this will give you 
plenty for complex cooling jobs. 

1 i\ J ^ ssem ble y our watercooling kit out- 
IU side the case and then let your sys- 
tem run for a day or so before you perform 
the in-case installation. Often, leaks don't 
develop until the water has been flowing 
for hours, so this measure will protect your 
expensive components from damage. If the 
worst happens and you do get water on cir- 
cuitry, immediately unplug your computer, 
disconnect the power supply from your 
motherboard, and then use a paper towel to 
clean up any droplets. Don't apply power 
to a component until you're sure it's com- 
pletely dry — wait a day or two, if necessary. 




Watercooling systems are effective 
only when their pumps are moving 
water swiftly through the case. Many of 
the pumps used in these kits are inexpen- 
sive, and although most are fairly reliable, 
a defective, worn-out, or otherwise mal- 
functioning pump will let water sit idle in 
the waterblocks, where the fluid helps to 
fry your chips. You can give yourself some 
peace of mind by using an application, 
such as Motherboard Monitor (freeware; 
mbm.livewiredev.com ), that will shut 
down your system if the CPU tempera- 
ture edges past a preset threshold. 

n There are two types of pumps com- 
monly sold for use in watercooling 
systems: inline and submersible. Anyone 
who's had an aquarium is familiar with 
submersible pumps, which, as the name 
implies, must be submersed to work prop- 
erly. Many retailers sell these pumps paired 
with a reservoir, so you won't have to 
worry about making the pump fit into a 
reservoir you buy separately. Inline pumps 
have inlet and outlet barbs that attach to 
your system's hoses, and because they're 
typically not submersible, require extra case 
space near the reservoir. When you buy a 
pump, be sure to look for its GPH (gallons 
per hour) rating and vertical discharge abil- 
ity (aka head pressure). You should bypass 
pumps that can't move at least 100GPH 
and push water to at least 24 inches high. 

m f After filling your watercooling sys- 
I J tem with water, you have to bleed 
out most of the air bubbles trapped inside; 
otherwise, a waterblock might snag those 
suds and cause serious cooling problems. If 
you use a submersible pump, this process is 
easy because all you have to do is complete- 
ly fill the system, tilt the case a few times to 



Expensive waterblocks are worth the dough. 
This waterblock has a thick copper base, 
clear Lucite top, and metal hose barbs. 



8 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




make sure no air bubbles are hiding within, 
and then cap your reservoir. It's a little 
harder to remove air from a system that 
uses an inline pump, but utilizing a T-line 
will help. To set up a T-line, all you need is 
a T-fitting, which is nothing more than a 
T-shaped piece of plastic with three barbs. 
Before you fill your system with water, find 
a point in your tubing that's high in the 
case (and between the pump and reservoir) 
and push the T-fitting into the hoses. 
Secure the hoses with clamps and make 
sure the vertical leg of the T points upward. 
Push about 6 to 10 inches of tubing onto 
the vertical barb and use a funnel to pour in 
a bit of water. Turn on your inline pump 
for a moment to push the water around, 
and then kill the power. Repeat this process 
until your system is full, use a tube cap to 
seal the end of your T-line, and tie this tub- 
ing segment out of the way. 

m m Some pundits claim that you should 
1^ replace the water every six months 
or so. So long as your water looks relatively 
clear and free of bubbles, there's very little 
reason to perform this task; it's time-con- 
suming and won't resolve major cooling 
problems. If you suddenly begin to experi- 
ence temperature fluctuations or spikes, 
verify that your waterblocks are secure and 
that there are no kinks in your hoses. 

m m Waterblock construction is impor- 
mj tant, but radiator construction 
isn't quite as crucial, so it's not necessary 
to spend $60 or more on "specialized" 
radiators that offer little in the way of 
added performance. Instead of blowing 
big money on a radiator, pay more atten- 
tion to fan details. Use a 120mm fan for 



Use a huge, 120mm fan to cool the water 
in your radiator. These fans spin slower 
and make less noise than 80mm fans. 



lower noise levels. And because every fan 
has a so-called dead spot in its center, use 
a fan shroud to increase the distance of 
the fan from the radiator and thus maxi- 
mize the cooling power of your radiator. 

m g* Cheap waterblocks are often just 
I w a simple piece of aluminum with 
an inlet and outlet, but expensive water- 
blocks are much more complex. Pricier 
models often have more than one outlet, 
and they contain computer-modeled pat- 
terns inside that help keep waterflow as 
turbulent as possible, and therefore, more 
effective for cooling. 

mmm Read all of a water pump's specifi- 
l# cations before you buy. If you 
choose a 120V pump, the product has a 
plug that uses a regular wall outlet, mean- 
ing you'll have to worm the cord out of 
the case. Many enthusiasts prefer 12V 
pumps, which plug directly into a com- 
puter's power supply. 



18 



When you buy a waterblock, 
make sure it's designed for your 



CPU socket type, and don't forget that 
you can also use smaller waterblocks to 
cool the chips on your motherboard and 
graphics card. Many graphics card 
waterblocks have a universal mounting 
device, so you don't have to buy a block 
made specifically for your video card 
model. Motherboard chipset waterblocks 
sometimes use predrilled mobo holes, 
and in lieu of these, you can often use 
special thermal epoxy that, like thermal 
grease, won't impede heat transfer. 

• m A watercooling system will defi- 
I ^ nitely keep your CPU cooler than 
a typical heatsink/fan combo, but you still 
need to use thermal grease. It doesn't 
matter what kind of grease you use, but a 
thin layer of this gooey stuff will go a long 
ways toward improving heat transfer from 
your CPU to the waterblock. 

MFor even better cooling capability, 
you can install a thermoelectric 
plate (or Peltier plate), which goes between 
your CPU and waterblock and uses elec- 
tricity to keep your CPU much cooler. If 
you opt for this kind of cooling power, 
however, you'll have to be prepared to deal 
with condensation and power concerns. 

High & Dry 

These tips should help your PC run far 
cooler than before. With some basic pre- 
cautions, properly treated water, and care- 
ful assembly, a watercooling system will 
help achieve super-fast overclocks on a 
conservative budget. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




If you buy your hose at 
a hardware store, give 
it the flex test. If the 
hose doesn't resist 
kinks when you bend it 
sharply, don't buy it. 



CPU / PC Modder 9 



20 Things To 
Watch Out For 

The First Time 

You Vanity Mod 

A PC 

Artistic Modding By The Numbers 




If you think modding is all about 
artistic ability and having the right 
tools, you're only half right. Pa- 
tience is the golden rule for creating 
something truly unique. Sure, a little cre- 
ative inspiration and the right tools can be 
helpful, but if Clint Eastwood can escape 
from Alcatraz with a spoon, you can do a 
lot with the right information. Here are 
20 guidelines to follow before setting out 
on your first vanity mod. 



1 Although vanity modding hasn't 
quite hit the mainstream, the sheer 
number of pre-modded cases and compo- 
nents on the market is proof enough that 
people like their PCs to be a reflection of 
themselves. The Web supports a thriving 
community of modders with a wide range 
of abilities and experience. You'd do well 
to seek out advice and inspiration from 
those who have been there and done that. 
Make sure you check out CPUs library of 



modding magazines, as well as the forums 
for some helpful advice. 

2 When embarking on your first mod 
project, choose parts that will save 
you from modding headaches later on. 
For instance, aluminum is a softer metal 
(and hence easier to cut) than steel. On 




A jigsaw cuts aluminum like butter. 



the other hand, steel is sturdier. If you're 
painting, you'll want to choose a case or 
component with smooth, untextured sur- 
faces. Not only will this make for more 
even paint coverage, but it'll make sand- 
ing a cinch. When choosing paint and 
primers, make sure they yield the desired 
finish (flat or glossy) and are designed for 
the type of material you're painting. 

3 Choose your locations carefully when 
cutting blowholes and windows. 
Place blowholes where they will do the 
most good. Any part of your case where 
air can settle is an ideal location for an 
additional case fan. You'll also want to 
position windows to get the best view of 
the motherboard, rather than the drive 
cages and power supply. Also consider 
what you'll need to cut through to realize 
your design; some side panels have over- 
lapping pieces of metal which can make 
cutting twice as arduous. 

4 Although patience is the only tool 
you can't do without, it's extremely 
difficult to cut a blowhole with a butter 
knife. Starting with the proper tools for 
the job may be one of the more limiting 
factors when it comes to modding, just 
due to the excessive cost of tools. The 
shoestring modder can get a lot of mileage 
out of a multipurpose tool, such as a 



10 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



The Dremel is the vanity 

modder's all-in-one, 

can't-live-without tool. 




Dremel, but we recommend a few other 
handy implements, such as pliers, a 
decent screwdriver (nonmagnetized), a 
variable-speed drill, jigsaw, soldering iron, 
hand sander, masking tape, electrical tape, 
files, clamps, and a tape measure. 

5 Everybody knows instructions are 
for newbies, right? Sure, if that 
means you can tell newbies from experi- 
enced modders by the fact that they still 
have all of their fingers. The instructions 
are there to inform you about the com- 
ponent or tool and how best to use it, 
whether for normal operation, installa- 
tion, removal, disassembly, or reassembly. 
If a particular component comes without 
instructions, take the extra step to search 
the 'Net. Trust us, your fingers will thank 
you. Also note any warranty information 
that comes with your parts and tools. 
Modding has the nasty habit of voiding 
warranties, so keep that in mind before 
you dig in. 

6 Having a clean workspace is the key 
to a hassle-free modding experi- 
ence. A clean table or workbench is 
ideal for smaller projects, while a clear 
open floor space is best for painting and 
sanding. After each step of your vanity 
mod, make sure to pick up scrap metal 
and stray metal shavings, as well as slag 
and solder residue. Also paint each 
component well away from anything 
you don't want tinted with paint dust. 
Hanging up sheets of plastic and 
putting newspapers on the floor can 
also hasten the cleanup process. 



7 Safety is the most important consid- 
eration for any vanity mod. If you're 
working with power tools, use goggles or 
safety glasses and wear earplugs. Carefully 
consider your work environment and take 
steps to secure the area from unwanted 
traffic. Be wary of children and their abili- 
ty to access your workspace or tools. Also 
rid the area of flammable materials and 
volatile chemicals. Always read and follow 
any safety instructions for tools and com- 
ponents, and unplug everything when 
you're not using it. 

8 If you're cutting or painting your 
case, remove each panel from the 
chassis and set it aside to work on sepa- 
rately. If you're working on the chassis, 
remove all of your components. Spray 
paint adheres best to flat surfaces. If you 
can, prop each panel up to make sure the 

The screwdriver is one of the most basic and 
essential tools at your disposal. 

spray can is upright throughout 
the painting process. Your paint 
job will look more professional 
if the edges and seams appear 
fully painted. Also disassem- 
ble the drive bay door covers 
and front-panel modules 
(for USB, FireWire, and 
audio ports) to ensure you 
don't inadvertently paint 
them shut. 

9 The screws that hold 
case panels to the chassis are different 
from the screws for mounting optical, 
floppy, and hard drives. Often the moth- 
erboard mounting screws are different, as 
well. The best way to avoid using the 
wrong hardware is to keep track of every 
screw. Keep all the screws, clips, connec- 
tors, and loose parts arranged in such a 
way that you remember where each part 
came from. A slotted tray or small tackle 
box makes a perfect screw organizer. 

mg\ Static electricity is murder on 

I W computer components. If you ever 

wear corduroy, or work with computers, 

(or, God forbid, both), you owe it to 




yourself to be mindful of static electricity. 
Using an inexpensive antistatic wristband 
or simply touching a grounded piece of 
metal can save your expensive compo- 
nents and even spare you the nasty bite of 
static shock. Don't just rely on an antista- 
tic mat to stave off static, or you'll be 
singing the blown motherboard blues. 

n Measure twice, cut once. No 
amount of wood filler will make 
your window smaller or your blowhole 
rounder. Before cutting your case panels, 
cover them in masking tape and then 
mark your measurements with a pencil 
and ruler. When installing an exhaust fan 
in the top panel, don't position the hole 
too close to the PSU or too 
close to the top 5.25-inch 
drive bay. Also, make sure 
side panel fans are clear of 
the drive cages and power 
supply. Double-check your 
measurements and remember 
to consider how the finished 
product will look. 



The point of modding is to 
add some personal flair to a 
machine you use every day. Vanity 
mods typically don't involve adding 
functional enhancements, but each com- 
pleted mod should work the same as the 
unmodded component. Adding razor 
wire to the power and reset buttons may 
look pretty hardcore, but you shouldn't 
have to open a vein just to reboot your 
system. If you make sure your modded 
projects are as comfortable to use as 
before, you'll get a lot more enjoyment 
from the finished result. 

BIf at all possible, practice using 
the drill, saw, or Dremel tool 
before tackling the piece you plan to 
mod. If you're cutting a window, try cut- 
ting in the center of the plotted area to 
get a feel for how your chosen implement 
handles the case material. If a jigsaw is 
too violent for your aluminum panel, 
switch to a Dremel and take another 
practice stab. Each tool will handle the 
same piece differently. Note how much 
pressure you need to apply to get the tool 



CPU / PCModder 11 



to cut, and how quickly the material 
gives way. Also note any special instruc- 
tions about how to use a certain tool with 
a certain material. 

1/1 ^° y ouve decided to install a 

I T" blowhole. Choosing a size is the 

next big hurdle. Fans come as small as 

40mm and go up to a massive 120mm. 




Make sure to 
choose the 
appropriate-sized 
hole saw. 



Small fans typically have to spin faster to 
move air and can tend to be louder, while 
larger fans can do more with lower rpms. 
Try to resist the urge to pepper your case 
with 120mm fans unless you're entirely 
sure you won't want to downgrade to 
80mm fans. If you've made the cut and 
find yourself in a downgrading mood, 
you can buy adapters for mounting small- 
er fans in larger blowholes, but they're 
usually unattractive and can significantly 
increase the fan's profile. Upgrading the 
size of your blowhole is as easy as finding 
a saw for making a larger hole. 

m m The best way to get a clean-look- 
I J ing blowhole is to use a hole saw 
of the appropriate diameter. If you can't 
find a hole saw that matches your fan 
diameter, it's preferable to go with a 
slightly smaller hole saw. For instance, a 
76mm hole saw will work for an 80mm 
case fan; however, an 83mm hole saw 
may leave unsightly gaps around the fan's 
edges. Once you have your hole mea- 
sured, find the center point using a ruler 
and mark it with a pencil. You'll want to 



divot the center point using a nail and 
hammer. This tiny dent will keep your 
drill centered throughout the cutting 
process. Don't forget to clamp the panel 
down before drilling. 

m g* Using a jigsaw can make quick 
I w work of your more ambitious pro- 
jects, but remembering these few tips can 
be the difference between a mod and a 
mess. To begin, drill a hole on the inside 
of your cut line, slightly wider than the 
width of the jigsaw blade. This pilot hole 
will be the starting place for your jigsaw. 
Make sure the jigsaw blades you're using 
are rated for the material you're cutting. 
Blades with at least 32tpi (teeth per inch) 
and 24tpi should be sufficient. Also, 
you'll want to mask off your panel's sur- 
face to cut down on residual scratches. 
Remember, tightly clamp your panel or 
part to your work surface whether drill- 
ing, sawing, sanding, or deburring. 

n Painting your case may seem like 
the easiest vanity mod, but to do it 
right you'll need plenty of primer, sandpa- 
per (fine- and rough-grit, wet and dry), and 
a lot of patience. Start by sanding every sur- 
face you want to paint with rough-grit 
sandpaper. You don't need to completely 
strip the existing paint from your panels, 
but you'll want to sand all smooth surfaces. 
This will help the paint adhere. After you 
prime the panels, sand them down using 
fine-grit sandpaper. You may also want to 
wet sand the panels, which involves run- 
ning water over the panel while using spe- 
cial wet/dry sandpaper, which provides an 
even smoother finish. 

m q Primer also helps the paint adhere 
I O to the panels and provides an even 
foundation for your color coat. If you're 
using lighter colors, use a light colored 
primer to achieve the intended finish. 
Primer usually dries fast, so wait approxi- 
mately 30 minutes to an hour between 
coats. After a few coats, allow 24 hours to 
pass so the primer has a chance to set. 
Sand the panel and reapply primer until 
you're satisfied with the panel's texture 
and coverage. After applying the color 
coat, wait another 24 hours to let the 



paint set, then apply another coat. Always 
paint in a well-ventilated area. Also make 
sure you do all your cutting before you 
paint, to reduce the chances of having to 
repaint a scratched panel. 

m ft If you've got a window, or plan to 
I ^ install one, you can take your cus- 
tom PC to the next level with a few CCFLs 
(cold cathode fluorescent lamps), LEDs, EL 
(electroluminescent) wires, or plasma tube 
lights. Most specialized PC lighting options 
emit minimal heat and are safe for use near 
wires. Blacklight LEDs and CCFLs can set 
off your UV reactive parts, or you can in- 
stall UV reactive sleeving kits on your 
cables to really jazz up your case innards. If 
you're looking to enlighten your case, keep 
in mind that your PC's visual splendor 
demands that much more power. As a gen- 
eral rule, you should calculate the power 
draw from every component and make sure 
your power supply is more than able to 



meet your needs. 




Use a soldering iron for 
connecting wires to circuits 
and other wires. 



1 1\ P r0Da My one of the easiest vanity 
At\3 mods is the old wire tuck. Rout- 
ing wires away from windows, blowholes, 
and vents makes for a better-looking PC, 
but it also has the practical benefit of 
improving airflow. Your motherboard's 
connector layout can either help or ham- 
per your wire-tucking task. Also, some 
case manufacturers design cases to mini- 
mize wire mess while others don't give a 
second thought to what the finished PC 
will look like on the inside. Nylon ties 
and sleeving kits can make a big differ- 
ence. Consider tossing out your flat rib- 
bon cables in favor of rounded cables for 
IDE and floppy devices. CPU 

by Andrew Leibman 



12 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Being Dean 
"EnVaDoR" Liou 

Inside The Mind Of An Extreme Modder 




th 



in this crazy 



Ask any computer know-it-all 
what a "modder" is and you'll 
get different answers. What's 
my definition? Modding is tricking out 
your rig. Modding is standing apart from 
the crowd. Modding is a desperate cry for 
attention from your fellow 
computer geeks. Hello, my 
name is EnVaDoR, and I'm 
a modder. 

For those of you who don't 
know me, I'm your local has- 
been modder. Check out 
www.envador.com for a 
sampling of what I boldly 
describe as my Innovative 
Concept Cases. (Hey, I won- 
der if the editor will let that 
shameless plug slide.) Why a 
"has-been"? 'Cause I haven't 
gotten off my lazy butt to 
make a new mod in almost a 
year. I've got a bag full of 
excuses: no time, no money . 
. . oh, and no time. But don't 
worry, folks, I've got a bunch 



of ideas brewing 
brain of mine. :-) 

A true hard-core modder al- 
ways has three mods on his 
mind: the last mod, the current 
mod, and the next mod. With all 
these thoughts running through 
our heads, how do we have room 
to think about the trivial things in life, 
such as work and school? Modding is 
more than a hobby, it's a passion! It's 
like collecting stamps or those creepy 
porcelain lawn gnomes (shiver). 

Getting Into Modding 

How was modding invented? Maybe 
we should ask Al Gore, as I've heard he 
invented the intarnat (bar bar). I had 
my first taste of modding back in 1998 
when I was confronted with a problem 
every computer user faces: heat. My 
90MHz Intel Pentium-based comput- 
er was overheating and 
-market 




Guitar 



Windows 98 kept crashing. To battle 
the problem, I used a Black & Decker 
rotary tool to cut a lopsided square hole 
in the side of my case right next to the 
processor. I fixed my overheating issue, 
but alas, Win98 kept crashing (buggy 
OS, not my fault). 

Fast-forward to the year 2000. 
Cutting "blowholes" in computer cases 
was becoming popular among gamers 
to cool down their rigs (that's a techni- 
cal term, you know). Not to be out- 
done, my PC had to have the most 
CFM (cubic feet per minute) of airflow 
among my fellow gamers' PCs. Enter 
PVCII: Build a computer frame out of 
PVC pipe from the hardware store, slap 
a 20-inch household box fan on the 
side, and call it a day. The idea was so 
off-the-wall and out-of-the-box that it 
got a lot of press, both positive and neg- 
ative. Many liked the idea. Some were 
worried if any electro-magnetic interfer- 
ence from the cooling fan would cause 
problems. But lucky me: It didn't. 

Thrill Of Victory, Agony Of Defeat 

Back then, and even now, I mod for 
my own personal enjoyment. If you've 
seen some of my "work" you'll know I 
don't give a rat's arse what you think. :-P 
I'm the psycho that built a computer 
inside of a plastic training toilet. Now 
that's a computer only its modder would 
love {groan). :-) Sure, it's nice to be rec- 
ognized and awarded for my efforts. But 
if no one notices or cares it's no 
skin off my back. I made this for 
myself and I'm happy with it, so 
I've accomplished my goal. 

One of the dangers of modding 
is toasting hardware. By the time 
you've cut blowholes, inserted win- 
dows, and installed lights, the last 
thing you need is for a whole lotta 
nothin' to happen when you press 
the power button. Oh yeah, and 
accidentally stepping on your 
motherboard doesn't help either, 
not that I've ever done that (whis- 
tles innocently) . Actually, when 
building LovePC I did accidentally 
step on the motherboard during 
the last few crucial hours before the 



CPU / PC Modder 13 




From car dashboard to dashboard computer. 




Now how's that for CFM? 



start of a major LAN party. I shrugged it 
off and put everything together, ignoring 
the fact that my lead foot had taken out a 
RAM tab and a capacitor or two. Let that 
be a lesson to you kids: Soldered capaci- 
tors and resistors prove to be necessary on 
motherboards. 

Modding Is Love & Hate 

Nothing beats the sense of accom- 
plishment you feel when finishing a mod. 
The time and energy you spend plan- 
ning, measuring twice, and cutting once 
(sometimes vice versa), the love and tears 
{Note: Real men don 't 
cry, you sissy), and the 
sweat and blood shed 
throughout the mod- 
ding experience make 
it all worthwhile. 

But why, exactly, 
do we do it? It's like 



a fashion show for geeks; we don't look 
good in G-strings anyway. In modding, 
you can make a name for yourself and 
earn acclaim with a simple idea such as 
fitting PC parts inside an acoustic gui- 
tar. If you like thinking outside of the 
beige rectangular box, then modding is 
where it's at. 

Always Be Prepared 

Don't quit your day job just yet, 
Picasso. Modding can get expensive. 
You'll need cash for materials and sup- 
plies for cutting holes and adding win- 
dows, lights, and fans. Although prices 
for modding supplies have become 
cheaper in the last few years, the re- 
ceipts will add up. Kick your modding 
idea around in your head for a while, 
write it down, draw it, and plan it out. 
Add a price tag to everything, such as 
for the necessary tools you might not 
already own. 

If you're a beginning modder, ease 
into it by first making your standard 
blowhole or window. These tasks exer- 
cise certain basics: cutting a lean, cen- 
tered, circular hole in the metal side of a 
case. There are also plenty of premodded 
computer cases out there, and there's 
nothing wrong with stopping by your 
local computer warehouse and purchas- 
ing something nice-looking to sit on 
your computer desk. You can even start 
with a premod and take it a step further 
by adding more lights and windows. 

Be ready for criticism. The more 
radical your mod, the more comments 
you'll get about it. Be prepared for the 
negative ones, as well as the positive, 



and don't let them get you down. Re- 
member, folks, this is a fashion show, 
and not everyone will like your style. It 
does help to do some research before 
starting a mod. If you're in this for 
originality, do a Google search to find 
out if anyone has had your idea 
already. You might be thinking, Hey! I 
know! I'm gonna make a computer 
completely out of Plexiglas! Well, 
buddy, the rest of the world has already 
thought of that one. Try again. :-) 

Don't forget to have a place to actu- 
ally work on your mod, too. For those 
of us (myself included) who don't have 
a garage to work in, your living room, 
kitchen, and bedroom are perfect places 
for leaving metal shards and expensive 
computer parts lying around the carpet. 

Ultimate Goal 

Inspiration can hit at the strangest 
time. Modding can be a brainstorming 
session with a piece of paper and a pen, 
but you can get ideas from running ran- 
dom errands and observing the things 
around you. You could get stuck in traf- 
fic and suddenly a billboard can spark a 
creative revelation. "A computer made 
out of LEGOS!!!" (Sorry, that's been 
done already.) Nice mods can even start 
out with more practical purposes in 
mind, such as improving cooling, 
overclocking the CPU, or moving a CD- 
ROM drive to a more convenient loca- 
tion. Regardless, you are your No. 1 
audience. If you're happy with your mod, 
then you've accomplished your goal. CPU 

by EnVaDoR (aka Dean Liou) 



Transforming a normal 
living space into a 
modder's haven: 
before and after. 




14 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Top Of The Line From AMD 



AMD's Latest 64-bit Processor 



Following the success of its 
Athlon 64 FX-53 proces- 
sor, this fall, AMD released 
the Athlon 64 FX-55, a CPU that 
offers many of the advantages of 
earlier Athlon 64 FX processors, as 
well as a faster clock speed and 
939-pin design. 

AMD describes its Athlon 64 
FX line as designed for "cinematic 
computing," or video-heavy applications 
that require fast clock speeds, efficient 
memory access, and tight integration 
between the processor and memory. 
This makes the FX-55 an ideal choice 
for gaming systems, as well as video- 
editing and other memory- and CPU- 
intensive applications. 

Socket & Chipset Compatibility 

The Athlon 64 FX-51 had 940 pins, 
just like AMD's Opteron processors. The 
next FX-series CPU, the Athlon 64 FX- 
53 came in two varieties: 939-pin and 
940-pin. The FX-55 is the first FX-series 
processor to support only Socket 939. 

Whereas the original 940-pin Athlon 
FX processors required registered memo- 
ry, 939-pin Athlon FX processors, 
including the FX-55, use more affordable 
(and readily available) unbuffered memo- 
ry. The 939-pin Athlon 64 FX-55 sup- 
ports a variety of chipsets, including 
ATI's RADEON Xpress 200P; 
NVIDIA's nForce3 250, nForce3 Ultra, 
nForce4, and nForce4 SLI; SiS's 
SiS755FX; and the K8T800 Pro and 
K8T890 from VIA. 

64-bit Capabilities 

The FX-series CPUs can run existing 
32-bit applications through the x86 ISA 
instruction set. However, the FX proces- 
sors can also run upcoming 64-bit appli- 
cations, giving a system greater flexibility. 
In fact, Microsoft has released a 360-day 
trial copy of its 64-bit OS, WinXP Pro 




x64 Edition (www.microsoft.com/ 
windowsxp/64bit /evaluation /upgrade 
.mspx) , letting Athlon 64 FX-55 users get 
a taste of the CPU's 64-bit capabilities. A 
variety of games will also soon include 64- 
bit support. Microsoft plans several releas- 
es, and Ubisoft will distribute 64-bit beta 
copies of Far Cry. 

AMD64 processors also enable twice 
the SSE and SSE2 registers of 32-bit 
processors and include 3DNow! Pro- 
fessional for improved 3D-graphics ren- 
dering. When the 64-bit capabilities are 
combined with the FX-55's 2.6GHz 
clock speed, the new AMD processor 
should provide better texture rendering 
and faster frame rates to AMD64-opti- 
mized games and video applications. 

Other Features 

As a member of the AMD64 product 
family, the FX-55 features a 128-bit, on- 
die memory controller with up to 
6.4GBps bandwidth. With the memory 
controller integrated, the processor-to- 
memory data rate is the same as the 
processor's clock speed, 2.6GHz. Also, 
the FX-55 features 128KB of on-die LI 
cache and 1,024KB of L2 cache. 

The Athlon 64 FX-55 also integrates 
HyperTransport technology, boosting 
bandwidth and streamlining the number 
of buses through which data must travel. 
This helps the FX-55 avoid the bottle- 
necks, I/O device conflicts, and delays 
sometimes experienced with older, multi- 
bus architectures. 



When the Athlon 64 FX-55 is 
installed in a system running 
WinXP Pro with SP2 or WinXP 
Pro x64 Edition, the processor pro- 
vides added system security through 
AMD's Enhanced Virus Protection. 
By targeting buffer-overrun and 
buffer-overflow code, the FX-55 
can fend off notorious malware, 
such as MSBlaster and Slammer. 
Finally, the FX-55 includes Cool'n'- 
Quiet technology. When the processor is 
grouped with a motherboard and BIOS 
that support Cool'n'Quiet, voltages and 
CPU temperatures automatically reduce 
when possible, resulting in lower fan speeds 
and less noise. 

Although many of the FX-55's features 
were available in earlier Athlon 64 FX 
processors, this newest CPU provides a 
significant speed boost and better perfor- 
mance to systems, whether running 32- 
or 64-bit applications. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 

AMD 
Athlon 64 FX-55 

Clock Speed 2.6GHz 

FSB 400MHz (effective), 
2GHz FSB 
L1 Cache 128KB 
L2 Cache 1 ,024KB (exclusive) 
L3 Cache N/A 
Total Effective Cache 1 , 1 52KB 
Supported Chipsets ATI RADEON Xpress 
200P, NVIDIA nForce3 
250, NVIDIA nForce 3 
Ultra, NVIDIA nForce4, 
NVIDIA nForce4 SLI, SiS 
SiS755FX, VIA K8T800 
Pro, VIA K8T890 
Supported Memory Unbuffered PC3200 

/2700/21 00/1 600 DDR 
Manufacturing Process 0.13-micron, SOI, 105.9 
million transistors 
Socket Type Socket 939 
Features AMD64 technology (for 64-bit 
instruction set support), x86 ISA (for 32-bit 
instruction set support), 8GBps HyperTransport rate 
at 2GHz, 6.4GBps MCT rate at 400MHz, 14.4GBps 
processor-to-system bandwidth, integrated 
northbridge, 3DNow! Professional, and SSE2 
multimedia instruction set, exclusive L1 and L2 cache 
Released Oct. 19, 2004 



CPU / PCModder 15 



Top Of The Line 
From Intel 

Intel's 3.46GHz P4 EE With HT Technology 



Intel's Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 
is the company's high-end, high- 
price line of processors, so it's no 
surprise that the P4 EE would be the 
first of Intel's processors to feature an 
FSB higher than 800MHz. Intel's non- 
EE P4s are still stalled at 800MHz, and 
even the earlier EE P4s topped out at 
800MHz. The 3.46GHz P4 EE is not 
only the first Intel processor to feature a 
1,066MHz FSB, as of press time, it is 
also the only 1,066MHz FSB CPU on 
the market. 

The P4 EE Catches The Bus 

If you weren't paying close attention, 
it was easy to miss the 3.4GHz P4 EE 
announcement. The 1,066MHz FSB 
processor made its debut quietly, with- 
out much fanfare. The same is true of 
the only chipset that supports the 
3.4GHz P4 EE's FSB. This new chipset, 
the Intel 925XE Express, also made a 
quiet entrance. You can read more about 
the new 925XE Express chipset in "The 
Bus Rolls On" on page 17. 

A handful of 925XE Express moth- 
erboards are on the market, with Abit 
and ASUS the primary manufacturers. 
Because the 3.4GHz P4 EE is the only 
1,066MHz FSB processor available, 
motherboard manufacturers seem to be 
relatively slow to pounce on the 925XE 
Express chipset compared to competitive 
chipsets that incorporate similarly 
groundbreaking technologies. If and 
when Intel releases more processors that 
support the 1,066MHz FSB, we should 
see more compatible motherboards for 
the 3.4GHz P4 EE. 

The 925XE Express chipset may be 
the first to support the 3.46GHz P4 EE's 
whopping 1,066MHz FSB. This is not to 
say, however, that Intel's new P4 EE 



processor will not work with other Socket 
775 chipsets, such as the Intel 925X 
Express. To take full advantage of the 
new CPU's increased FSB, though, the 
paired chipset must have FSB capabilities 
of at least 1,066MHz. 

The release of the 3.46GHz P4 EE 
reinforces a key difference between Intel's 
and AMD's strategies. AMD has boosted 
system performance by building the mem- 
ory controller into the processor, eliminat- 
ing the need for a separate northbridge 
chip and reducing bottlenecks in the 
CPU-to-memory-controller path. Intel, in 
the meantime, has achieved many of its 
performance gains by increasing the CPU 
clock speed and developing a wider FSB. 

Other Features & Specs 

As with all of Intel's P4 EE's CPUs, 
the 3.46GHz processor supports Hyper- 
Threading Technology as well as SSE2 
instruction sets. With HT Technology, 
this processor can offer greater multitask- 
ing power, and because the processor 
is marketed mainly toward power users 
and gamers, the 3.4GHz P4 EE will aid 
many users in experiencing better multi- 
player gaming. This latest P4 EE proces- 
sor also joins the LGA775 3.4GHz P4 as 
the second P4 EE CPU to use Socket 
775. The 3.46GHz also features the hefty 
on-die cache of the earlier P4 EE proces- 
sors. All LGA775 P4 EE CPUs feature 
2MB of on-die L3 cache and 512MB of 
on-die L2 cache. Intel's latest P4 EE 
processor also supports dual-channel 
DDR2-533 and DDR2-400 memory 
with latency timings as aggressive as CL3. 

The 3.46GHz P4 EE was manufac- 
tured with a 0.13-micron process and 178 
million transistors. The processor runs a 
little bit hotter than other P4 EE CPUs. 
The 3.46GHz processor's TDP spec is 



110.7W, whereas earlier LGA775 P4 EE 
TDP specs top out at 109. 6W, and the 
478-pin P4 EE CPUs only had TDP 
specs of 92.1 to 102.9W. 

It's Not Easy Being EE 

The 3.46GHz P4 EE is a unique and 
impressive processor because of its sup- 
port for a 1,066MHz FSB. However, it 
does currently stand alone as the only 
such processor, and the 925XE Express 
is the only chipset to support this 
processor's unique FSB capabilities. 
However, it faces an uphill battle in 
adoption by both motherboard man- 
ufacturers and users. Until other pro- 
cessors and chipsets join 
the 1,066MHz revolution, 3.46GHz P4 
EE adoption may be slower than Intel 
would prefer. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 




Intel 
3.46GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition With HT 
Technology (Gallatin) 


Clock Speed 


3.46GHz 


FSB 


1, 066MHz (the 
only Intel CPU 
withal, 066MHz FSB) 


L1 Cache 


N/A 


L2 Cache 


512KB 


L3 Cache 


2MB 


Total Effective Cache 


2.5MB 


Supported Chipsets 


For 1066MHz FSB sup- 
port: 925XE Express. For 


800MHz FSB support: 


925X Express, 91 5P 




Express, or915G 
Express 




Supported Memory 


dual-channel DDR2- 
533/400 (CL3) 


Manufacturing Process 


0.13-micron, 178 million 
transistors 


Socket Type 


Socket 775 


Features HT Technology, Intel NetBurst, 
SSE2, highest FSB of any Intel CPU, 2.5MB com- 
bined on-die cache 


Released 


Nov. 1 , 2004 



16 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



The Bus 
Rolls On 

Intel's 925XE Express Chipset 



After releasing its new Alderwood 
(925X Express) chipset early in 
the summer, Intel readied a vari- 
ation of the chipset that's destined to 
appeal to modders, gamers, and other 
serious users who demand performance. 
This new chipset, the 925XE Express, 
premiered at the beginning of November 
2004 and boasts many impressive fea- 
tures, not the least of which is a faster 
1,066MHz system bus. 

With greater bandwidth between the 
CPU and memory (a 33% improvement, 
according to Intel), the 925XE Express 
chipset is an ideal choice for systems that 
run memory-intensive applications, such 
as games and video-editing programs. This 
bandwidth boost is not the only way in 
which memory performance is improved. 
The 925XE Express supports DDR2 
memory, which supports a 4-bit-per-cycle 
data-fetch rate. DDR2, although a rela- 
tively new technology, is already available 
at frequencies of up to 675MHz, faster 
than the fastest DDR RAM's frequency 
(PC4800's 600MHz). As the technology 
evolves, DDR2 will also support lower 
latencies than are possible with the older 
DDR memory. With the 925XE Express 
chipset, systems can support up to 4GB of 
unbuffered, non-ECC DDR2. 

The 925XE Express achieves higher 
performance not only through its gener- 
ous system bus but also through its 
support for Intel's high-end, not-for- 
the-casual-user CPU, the Pentium 4 
Extreme Edition. At press time, the 
fastest P4 EE processor available was the 
3.46GHz P4 EE with HT Technology 
and 2MB L3 cache. 

By pairing the 925XE Express chipset 
with a P4 EE with HT support, systems 




can not only take better advantage of 
installed memory but can also enable 
better multitasking. The pairing of HT 
Technology with a 1,066MHz system 
bus is especially beneficial for some 
users. For instance, this configuration 
supports more efficient and error-free 
video editing, as a user can open and edit 
several video clips simultaneously. The 
enhanced system bus paired with an HT- 
enabled CPU will also let gamers run 
faster frame rates while running other 
applications, such as media players, in 
the background. 

Of course, Intel's 925XE Express 
chipset also includes all the features of 
its older sibling, the 925X. For instance, 
the chipset supports the latest video 
technology, PCI-E xl6, for improved 
external graphics capabilities. Intel 
dropped AGP support from its Aider- 
wood chipsets. The 925XE Express is 
paired with either Intel's ICH6 or 
ICH6R southbridge and supports Intel 
High Definition Audio. This technology 
supports 7.1 -channel audio as well as 
Dolby Digital and DTS technologies. 

925XE Express systems also include 
southbridge support for up to four PCI-E 
xl slots and Ultra ATA/ 100 IDE connec- 
tivity. The chipset supports up to four 
SATA/150 ports. If the i925XE north- 
bridge is paired with the ICH6R south- 
bridge, a system can take advantage of 
Intel's Matrix Storage Technology, which 
includes RAID 0,1 capabilities. Finally, 
both of the compatible southbridge chips 
add support for eight Hi-Speed USB 



ports and LAN MAC/GbE networking to 
the 925XE Express. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 

Intel 925XE Express 
Northbrldge (J925XE) 

System Bus 1,066/800MHz 
Supported For 1 ,066MHz FSB 
Processors support: Intel 3.46GHz 
P4EE. For 800MHz FSB 
support: Intel P4 EE, P4 
(90nm) 
Supported Memory Dual-channel, non-ECC 

DDR2-533/400 
Maximum Memory 4GB 
Integrated Graphics N/A 
External Graphics PCI-E x1 6 
Support 
Additional First and only chipset to 
Northbridge Specs support a 1 ,066MHz 
FSB, support for HT 
Technology, DDR2 
support 
Southbridge (ICH6 or ICH6R) 
IDE/SATA Ultra ATA/100 and up to 
four SATA/150 ports 
RAID Intel Matrix Storage 
Technology (with 
ICH6R), including 
integrated RAID 0,1 
Networking GbE and LAN MAC 
Audio Intel High Definition 
Audio with eight inde- 
pendent DMA engines 
with 7.1 -channel, Dolby 
Digital, and DTS support 
Features: 1,066MHz FSB support, DDR2, 
PCI-E x16, up to six PCI-E x1 slots, up to 
eight Hi-Speed USB ports 

Released Nov. 1 , 2004 



CPU / PC Modder 17 



Flexible Chipset, 
Single-Channel 

The SiS 649 Chipset Offers A Memory Upgrade Path 



SiS has introduced a couple of 
new chipsets in the past six 
months, both of which support 
PCI-E xl6 graphics. The newest chip- 
set from SiS is the SiS 649, a chipset 
with a full variety of features but that 
supports single- rather than dual- 
channel memory. Although the chip- 
set does not support dual-channel 
RAM, it does offer considerable mem- 
ory flexibility, with two DIMM slots 
for older 184-pin DDR modules and 
two DIMM slots for newer 240-pin 
DDR2 modules. With support for 
both memory technologies, the SiS 
649 chipset gives users the freedom to 
use their current DDR now but 
upgrade to DDR2 later as the technol- 
ogy evolves (with lower latencies and 
lower prices). 

The SiS 649 joins the SiS 656 
chipset in bringing PCI Express capa- 
bilities to the latest Intel-compatible 
motherboards. The SiS 649 supports 
Intel's P4 and Celeron processors 
(with 800/533/400MHz system bus). 
The new chipset also provides a 
DDR2-compatible alternative to 
Intel's Grantsdale (915 Express) and 
Alderwood (925 Express) series chip- 
sets, which do not support existing 
DDR memory. SiS' latest chipset 
offers an upgrade path that moves at 
the user's pace. 

The SiS 649 offers some of the 
same features as Intel's chipsets, how- 
ever, including PCTE xl6 external 
graphics support. However, although 
SiS' chipset gives users freedom to 
migrate from DDR to DDR2 at any 
time, SiS 649 motherboards will lack 
AGP support and require users to 




SiS 649 



upgrade to a PCI-E xl6 video card. 
This is a growing trend, as many of 
the newer chipsets and motherboards 
have dropped support for AGP video 
cards entirely. 

The SiS649 northbridge links to the 
southbridge through the MuTIOL 1G 
bridge. This is SiS' 16-bit, bi-direc- 
tional data bus with support for up to 
lGBps data transfer between the chips. 
The proprietary MuTIOL 1G bus 
connects the SiS649 to one of two 
compatible southbridge chips, the 
SiS965 or SiS965L, both of which 
offer many of the latest technologies. 

Both southbridge chips provide the 
chipset with support for up to two PCI-E 
xl slots, two-channel ATA133, AC'97- 
compliant 7.1 -channel surround sound, 
and eight USB ports (up to two Hi-Speed 
and up to six Full Speed ports). The 
SiS965L provides two SATA/150 ports, 
10/100 Ethernet, and RAID 0, RAID 1, 
and JBOD storage configurations. When 
the SiS649 northbridge is paired with the 
SiS965L southbridge, the chipset offers 
the same capabilities, plus two additional 
SATA/150 ports, GbE connectivity, and 
a RAID 0+1 option. 

Regardless of which southbridge a 
motherboard manufacturer pairs with the 
SiS649 northbridge, SiS' MuTIOL 1G 



technology will provide lGBps data 
transfer between the SiS649 and linked 
southbridge. There are other ways in 
which the SiS 649 chipset works to 
remove bottlenecks from system opera- 
tion. With support for HT Technology, 
the SiS 649 provides a performance boost 
to systems, letting users multitask more 
effectively. Also, the chipset's DDR con- 
troller offers 3.2GBps memory band- 
width, while the DDR2 controller pro- 
vides up to 4.2GBps bandwidth. 

Although SiS' newest chipset offers 
only single-channel memory support 
to motherboards, it does offer many 
other new technologies and a conve- 
nient upgrade path from DDR to 
DDR2 memory. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



SIS 649 
Northbridge (SIS649) 


System Bus 


800/533/400MHz 


Supported 
Processors 


Intel P4 and Celeron 
(with 800/533/400MHz 
system bus) 


Supported 
Memory 


Single-channel, 
non-ECC DDR2-533/400 
or single-channel, 
non-ECC 
DDR400/333/266 


Maximum 
Memory 


2GB 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


External Graphics 
Support 


PCI-E x1 6 


Additional 

Northbridge 

Specs 


Support for HT 
Technology, MuTIOL 
1G(1GBps) 


Southbridge 


(SiS965 or SiS965L) 


IDE/SATA 


Two-channel 
ATA133/100, up to four 
SATA/150 ports (with 
SiS965) or up to two 
SATA/150 ports 
(with SiS965L) 


RAID 


RAID 0,1,0+1 and JBOD 
(with SiS965) or RAID 
0,1 and JBOD 
(with SiS965L) 


Networking 


GbE (with SiS965) or 
10/100 Ethernet 
(with SiS965L) 


Audio 


AC97 7.1 -channel 
surround sound 


Features: Support for either DDR or DDR2, 
PCI-E x16, up to two PCI-E x1 slots, and up to 
eight USB ports (up to two of the ports with 
Hi-Speed USB support and the remainder 
with Full Speed USB support) 


Released 


Aug. 3, 2004 



18 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Express Your 
Multimedia 

VIA's K8T890 Chipset 



VIA's latest multimedia chipset 
designed for high-definition 
video and 3D gaming is the 
K8T890, which builds on the successes of 
the K8-Series chipsets with the addition of 
PCI Express support. The K8T890 sup- 
ports AMD Opteron, Athlon FX, Athlon 
64, and Sempron (754-pin) processors. 

The K8T890 is paired with the expand- 
able VT8237 southbridge. Many of the 
southbridge's more advanced features typi- 
cally are add-on companion controller 
chips, and the VT8237 offers a simple 
compromise for motherboard makers cater- 
ing to high-end and midrange PC users. 

Northbridge 

VIA's Hyper8 technology employs a 16- 
bit/ 1 GHz HyperTransport bus link, which 
is 200MHz faster than the old K8T800's 
HT link. The upgrade boosts the 6.4GBps 
bandwidth to an incredible 8GBps for 
combined upstream and downstream traf- 
fic between the AMD 64 processor and the 
northbridge chipset. AMD's 64-bit proces- 
sors can address a theoretical maximum of 
16EB (exabytes), or 16 billion gigabytes, of 
memory. In practice, however, the number 
of the motherboard's RAM slots combined 
with the largest RAM modules available 




actually determines how much memory 
the K8T890 can support. 

The K8T890 features Flex Express 
Architecture, which consists of an asyn- 
chronous bus connecting up to five PCI-E 
slots. The K8T890's 20 PCI-E lanes, capa- 
ble of a combined bandwidth of 5GBps, 
are divided among one xl6 slot for a next- 
generation PCI-E graphics card and four xl 
slots for other PCI-E expansion cards. 

Southbridge 

VIA's VT8237 southbridge isn't exactly 
new, but it has features to support current 
and future chipsets. The Ultra V-Link bus 
transmits data between the northbridge and 
the southbridge at 1.06GBps. 

The Ultra V-link also manages up to 
four Parallel ATA 133/100 devices and a 
two-channel Serial ATA controller. VIA 
also offers the SATAlite external PHY, 
which supplies another two SATA channels 
for a total of four drives. 

The independent disk controllers supply 
RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, and JBOD 
(Just A Bunch Of Disks) configurations. 
The VT8237 also includes V-RAID soft- 
ware for setting up and managing RAID 
arrays. VIA's DriveThru technology lets 
users convert from a Parallel ATA or Serial 
ATA drive configuration to a RAID array 
without having to enter the BIOS. 

The VT8237's audio is provided by 
the VIA Vinyl AC'97 con- 
troller, which delivers sur- 
round-sound audio with the 
VIA Six-TRAC codec. 

The K8T890's southbridge 

includes the 10/100 Fast Ethernet 

controller, but delivers Gigabit 

Ethernet with the VIA Velocity 

PCI companion controller. 



The K8T890 supports up to eight Hi- 
Speed USB 2.0 ports for external peripher- 
als but doesn't include Fire Wire support. 

As a part of VIA's MAP (Modular 
Architecture Platform), the Hyperion 4-in- 
1 unified drivers ensure that the K8T890 
chipset will be able to handle new technolo- 
gies. Manufacturers are able to offer less- 
expensive boards due to VIA's southbridge 
architecture, which has the same pin count 
regardless of the chip model. 

VIA's PCI Express chipset for the 
AMD64 platform was released a few 
weeks before NVIDIA's offering, but both 
should appear on boards by the time you 
read this. The success of the K8T890 
chipset will depend upon the features that 
manufacturers decide to implement, but 
so far VIA looks to have another solid 
chipset on its hands. CPU 

by Andrew Leibman 

VIA K8T890 
Northbridge (K8T890) 

System Bus 1 GHz/1 6-bit 

HyperTransport 
Bus Link 



Supported 
Processors 


AMD Athlon 64 FX, 
Athlon 64, Opteron, 
Sempron 


Supported Memory 


Dual-channel 
DDR400/333/266 


Maximum Memory 


N/A 


ntegrated Graphics 


N/A 


External Graphics 
Support 


PCI Express, 
AGP 8X/4X 


Additional 
Northbridge Specs 


Ultra V-Link (1.06GBps) 


Southbridge (VT8237) 


IDE/SATA 


Four PATA 133/100 
ports, up to four SATA 
devices with SATAlite 
PHY controller 


RAID 


RAID 0, RAID 1, 
RAID 0+1, JBOD 


Networking 


Native 10/100 Ethernet/ 
Gigabit Ethernet with 
VIA Velocity Controller 



Audio VIA Vinyl six-channel 
Audio (AC'97 
integrated), VIA Vinyl 
Gold eight-channel 
Audio (PCI companion 
controller) 
Features: VIA's MAP (Modular Architecture 
Platform), Hyperion 4-in-1 unified drivers, 
VIA DriveStation, 64- and 32-bit support, 
Native Command Queuing, up to eight 
Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports, integrated MC97 
modem, as well as legacy ports. 

Released Sept. 24, 2004 



CPU / PC Modder 19 



PCI Express 
& Then Some 

NVIDIA's nForce4 Chipset 



The fourth generation 
chipset from NVIDIA 
further develops its sin- 
gle-chip design, which replaces tra- 
ditional north and southbridge 
chips. The nForce 4 is a PCI Ex- 
press chipset for AMD64 and Sem- 
pron processors, and comes in 
three iterations: nForce4 for main- 
stream users, nForce4 Ultra for 
enthusiasts, and nForce4 SLI for 
gamers and high-end users. 

PCI-E delivers twice the bandwidth of 
AGP 8X for data transfers of more than 
4GBps, and the AMD 64 CPU's integrated 
memory controller can address a theoreti- 
cal maximum of 16 exabytes, (a billion 
gigabytes) of RAM. Of course, the actual 
amount of memory you can use depends 
on the number of RAM slots on the board 
and the largest RAM modules available. 

Storage 

NVIDIA carried over the disk-indepen- 
dent Serial ATA controller support from 
the nForce3, but has made several improve- 
ments. The nForce4 chipset supports up to 
four 1.5Gbps SATA drives (nForce4) or 
four 3Gbps SATA drives (nForce4 Ultra 
and SLI). The nForce4's RAID support 
offers RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 arrays using 
PATA and SATA hard drives. 

The nForce4 has a utility called nvraid 
that takes the task of managing your RAID 
arrays out of the BIOS. With nvraid, you 
can point-and-click your way through wiz- 
ards and menus that simplify the addition 
of drives, as well as the rebuilding, creating, 
converting, and deleting of RAID arrays. 

Another feature found in all nForce4 
chipsets is nTune. From the nTune inter- 
face, you can benchmark and overclock 




your system, create and manage pro- 
files, monitor system performance, update 
your BIOS, and get online technical assis- 
tance. NVIDIA's nTune also provides 
access to the GPU core and memory bus 
frequency settings, which are inaccessible 
from the BIOS. 

ActiveArmor 

Available only with the nForce4 Ultra and 
SLI versions, ActiveArmor is NVIDIA's 
secure networking engine. Users who want 
peak network speeds when playing games 
online typically disable their lag-inducing 
software firewalls. In response, NVIDIA cre- 
ated ActiveArmor, which is a hardware-based 
firewall that can maintain Gigabit Ethernet 
speeds without compromising system securi- 
ty. ActiveArmor also supports TCP Chimney 
Architecture, which is a feature of Microsoft's 
next OS for improving network efficiency. 

SLI 

NVIDIA's SLI (Scalable Link Interface) 
puts into practice the old theory of linking 
two graphics cards to double performance. 
The nForce4 SLI chipset uses a PCI-E bus 
that scales to a single 16X lane when used 
with a video card in one PCI-E slot. If you 
use two GeForce 6600 GT, 6800 GT, or 



6800 Ultra video cards, the two occupied 
PCI-E slots combine into an 8X-by-8X 
lane to deliver the potential for twice the 
performance in games and 3D applications. 

Other Features 

The nForce4 chipset supports up to 10 
Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports, but no FireWire 
support. An AC'97 audio codec delivers 
8-channel surround-sound. All versions of 
the nForce4 also include Gigabit Ethernet 
and NVIDIA Firewall 2.0. 

NVIDIA continues its commit- 
ment to UDA (Unified Driver Archi- 
tecture), which ensures that nForce4 
drivers are compatible with the chip- 
set regardless of its release version. 
The NVIDIA ForceWare USE (Un- 
ified Software Environment) enables 
several monitoring and configura- 
tion utilities to work with nForce4- 
equipped systems. 

Manufacturers will have the final 

word on which features appear on 

boards, but the nForce4 looks like a solid 

platform for the next generation of PCs. CPU 

by Andrew Leibman 



NVIDIA 
(single- 
System Bus 
Supported 
Processors 
Supported 
Memory 
Maximum Memory 
Integrated Graphics 
External Graphics 
Support 
Additional 
SATA/IDE 



nForce4 MCP 
chip chipset) 

Up to 1600MHz 
Athlon 64 FX, Athlon 64, 
Sempron 
Dual-channel 
DDR400/333/266 
N/A 
N/A 

AGP 8X/4X/PCI 
Express x1 6/SLI 
HyperTransport 
Dual-controller 
architecture SATA 
3Gbps/SATA 1 .5Gbps, 
UltraDMA 133/100/66/33 
RAID 0,1,0+1 
Networking Integrated 10/100/1000 
Ethernet 
Audio AC'97 2.3 compliant 
interface, 8-channel 
surround sound, Dual 
S/PDIF outputs 
Features: Single-chip MCP design, 
hardware-accelerated firewall (Ultra/SLI), 64- 
and 32-bit support, Native Command 
Queuing, up to 10 Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports, 
NVIDIA ForceWare USE (Unified Software 
Environment), and integrated chipset 
processor 

Released Oct. 19, 2004 



20 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



The Fastest 
RAM From OCZ 

OCZ Technologies Charges Ahead With Fast DDR2 




OCZ DDR2 PC2-5400 Performance Series 



Earlier this year, OCZ Tech- 
nologies ( www.ocztechnology 
.com ) announced its PC4800 
DDR RAM at a time when most manu- 
facturers were still stalled at PC4400 
DDR. Now that OCZ is playing on the 
DDR2 field, it is once again at the fore- 
front of memory technology. The com- 
pany is one of the first manufacturers to 
release PC2-5400 DDR2 RAM, which 
has an operating frequency of 667MHz. 
OCZ's DDR2 PC2-5400 Perfor- 
mance Series memory, as with all of 
OCZ's Performance Series RAM, fea- 
tures low latencies. In the case of the 
PC2-5400 DDR2 RAM modules, OCZ 
recently achieved latency timings of 4-4- 
4-8, an improvement over the 4-4-4-12 
timings of OCZ's initial PC2-5400 
release. We expect to see improvements 
in DDR2 latencies as the new memory 
standard evolves. In fact, DDR2 will 
support much lower latencies than 
DDR. As of press time, however, no 
PC2-5400 was available with lower CAS 
timings than OCZ's modules. This 240- 
pin memory has a voltage of 1.8V and is 
currently offered in unbuffered, non- 
ECC modules. 

As with all of OCZ's high-end mem- 
ory, the DDR2 PC2-5400 features mir- 
rored copper heatspreaders to reduce 



heat and maintain more stable system 
operation. One of the standout features 
of OCZ's DDR2 PC2-5400, though, 
isn't even the memory modules them- 
selves but the included warranty. Not 
only does OCZ offer a lifetime warran- 
ty, the company also offers EVP (Ex- 
tended Voltage Protection), which will 
be of great value to overclockers. EVP 
lets a user take advantage of the memo- 
ry's lifetime warranty, even if the system 
was running at 2.2V +/-5%. OCZ offers 
its PC2-5400 DDR2 in 256MB, 
512MB, and 1GB single modules and in 
512MB, 1GB, and 2GB matched dual- 
channel kits. 

OCZ's PC2-5400 RAM will give 
overclockers more room to overclock 
their processors. Today's 800MHz FSB 
motherboards run DDR2 at 533MHz 
by default, but users can increase the 
FSB and push the processor's clock 
speed fairly far before exceeding the 
667MHz frequency of OCZ's PC2- 
5400. In fact, it is more likely that the 
motherboard or memory will reach the 
end of its stable operating range before 
DDR2-667 memory is pushed to the 
point of instability. 

What will prove to be more difficult 
is overclocking the memory itself, 
because users will need to overclock 



most systems before OCZ's PC2-5400 
(or any other PC2-5400 DDR2 memo- 
ry) will operate at 667MHz. The limita- 
tion in overclocking the memory, then, 
lies not with the memory itself but with 
the motherboards in which the memory 
is installed. Few users overclock their 
system's memory, though, and PC2- 
5400 provides plenty of headroom for 
users to increase the FSB and push CPU 
clock speeds higher. 

OCZ's PC2-5400 was not yet available 
when we ordered parts for this issue of PC 
Modder. However, we did benchmark 
and overclock an earlier pair of OCZ's 
DDR2 modules. You can read about the 
performance of OCZ's 533MHz PC2- 
4200 in "Memory Moves To Massive 
Frequencies" on page 121. 

Some manufacturers have been slow 
to release DDR2 RAM, but OCZ 
already has a decent selection, not only 
of frequencies but also densities. OCZ 
offers its PC2-5400 DDR2 in 256MB, 
512MB, and 1GB single modules and in 
512MB, 1GB, and 2GB matched-pair 
dual-channel kits. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



Model Name 


DDR2 PC-5400 
Performance Series 


Frequency 


667MHz 


Manufacturer 


OCZ Technologies 


Registered 
/Unbuffered 


Unbuffered 


ECC/Non-ECC 


Non-ECC 


Package 


240-pin 


Latency 


4-4-4-8 (Older versions 
of the PC2-5400 have 
timings of 4-4-4-12.) 


Voltage 


1.8V 


Heatspreader 


mirrored copper 


Warranty 


Lifetime Warranty with 
EVP up to 2.2V +1-5% 


Available Densities 


Model Number 


256MB 


PN-OCZ2667256PF 


512MB 


PN-OCZ2667512PF 


1GB 


PN-OCZ26671024PF 


512MB matched kit 
(2 x 256MB) 


PN-OCZ2677512 
PFDC-K 


1GB matched kit 
(2 x 512MB) 


PN-OCZ26671024 
PFDC-K 



2GB matched kit 
(2 x1GB) 



PN-OCZ26672048 
PFDC-K 



CPU / PC Modder 21 



Mushkin's 
Fastest RAM 

Mushkin Enters The DDR2 Market With PC2-4200 




Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 



M 



ushkin is one of the most 
recognized and trusted 
names in PC system memo- 
ry, so it's not surprising that the compa- 
ny has joined the list of manufacturers 
that offer memory that complies with 
the new DDR2 standard. When it 
comes to DDR2 RAM, Mushkin didn't 
get out of the gate as quickly as other 
manufacturers such as Corsair and 
OCZ. As of press time, Mushkin's 
DDR2 has not yet reached the speeds of 
other manufacturers' DDR2. Currently, 
the fastest Mushkin DDR2 is the com- 
pany's PC2-4200 DDR2, while other 
manufacturers already produce PC2- 
5400 memory. 

As with other DDR2 RAM, Mush- 
kin's PC2-4200 memory has 240 pins 
and supports lower voltages than the 
DDR RAM that preceded it. Currently, 
PC2-4200 is not only the fastest DDR2 
Mushkin offers; it's also the only DDR2 
the company sells. However, it is avail- 
able in two densities, 512MB and 1GB. 
Mushkin DDR2 memory is available 
with aluminum heatspreaders, which 
helps to control the temperatures of the 
memory chips. Mushkin does not guar- 
antee that you will receive a certain 
color of heatspreader, however. In fact, 
we have seen Mushkin's PC2-4200 in 



both black and silver. Speaking of color, 
we also noticed that whereas Mushkin's 
DDR has had a black or blue PCB, the 
DDR2's heatspreaders cover a standard 
green PCB. 

This DDR2 RAM has a 533MHz fre- 
quency and a supported operating volt- 
age of 1.8V. Mushkin's PC2-4200 
memory has latency timings of 4-4-4- 
12, matching the latencies of the other 
first-generation DDR2 memory mod- 
ules we've seen. However, while Mush- 
kin's PC2-4200 DDR2 RAM is still in 
its first release, some other manufactur- 
ers have already lowered the latencies of 
their PC2-4200 memory modules. As an 
example, in October, OCZ announced 
its new PC2-4200 DDR2 RAM sports 
timings of 3-2-2-8. Mushkin's PC4200 
DDR2 RAM modules still has their 
original and rather conservative 4-4-4- 
12 timings, but because Mushkin's 
memory is usually overclock-friendly 
and stable, some tweaking of the timings 
is probably possible, although it will 
void the warranty. 

We benchmarked and overclocked 
Mushkin's PC2-4200 DDR2 RAM later 
in this issue. Although it wasn't the 
fastest DDR2 system memory at the 
default 533MHz settings, it was very 
stable and overclockable. To see what 



type of performance you might expect 
from Mushkin's fastest DDR2, see 
"Memory Moves To Massive Frequen- 
cies" on page 121. 

Mushkin offers its PC2-4200 DDR2 
RAM in both 512MB and 1GB modules. 
In addition to single modules, Mushkin 
also offers matched pairs of RAM sticks 
to take advantage of a motherboard's 
dual-channel capabilities, assuming your 
PC's motherboard 
_ supports that fea- 

ture. These pack- 
ages include a 
1GB kit and a 
2GB kit. At press 
time, Mushkin 
only sells unbuf- 
fered and non- 
ECC PC2-4200 
DDR2 RAM. All 

Mushkin DDR2 

RAM comes with a lifetime warranty 
when used under recommended operat- 
ing conditions. Although Mushkin does 
not yet offer the range of DDR2 memory 
that other manufacturers do, it will likely 
be a favorite choice of overclockers 
because of the company's reputation for 
producing stable, quality memory. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



Model Name 


PC2-4200 Unbuffered 
DDR2 


Frequency 


533MHz 


Manufacturer 


Mushkin 


Registered 
/Unbuffered 


Unbuffered 


ECC/Non-ECC 


Non-ECC 


Package 


240-pin 


Latency 


4-4-4-12 


Voltage 


1.8V 


Heatspreader 


aluminum (color 
may vary) 


Warranty 


Lifetime Warranty 


Available Densities 


Model Number 


512MB 


991337 


1GB 

1GB matched pair 

(2 x 512MB) 


991338 
991361 


2GB matched pair 
(2 x1GB) 


991362 





22 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Corsair's Fastest 

RAM 

Corsair's PC2-5400 Offers 675MHz Frequency 




Corsair XMS2 5400 DDR2 Pro Series 



Corsair's fastest memory is its 
XMS2 5400 DDR2 ( www.cor 
sairmemory.com ), which comes 
in both a standard and Pro Series. The 
primary difference is that the Pro DDR2 
has more trendy and attention-grabbing 
heatspreaders and that it has 24 activity 
LEDs for monitoring memory activity. 
All XMS2 5400 DDR2 offers latency 
timings of 4-4-4-12. 

The XMS2 memory operates 
at 1.9V and has heat- 
spreaders to help pre- 
vent overheating. The 
heatspreaders on the Pro series 
memory have a grooved, textured 
design unlike those of other manu- 
factuers. The unique design is almost guar- 
anteed to draw the attention of anyone 
who sees the inside of an XMS2-equipped 
system. If you step away from the Pro 
series RAM, you'll find that Corsair's stan- 
dard PC2-5400 DDR2 has more tradi- 
tional heatspreaders. Also, the standard 
Series DDR2 has black heatspreaders 
whereas the Pro Series DDR2 has plat- 
inum heatspreaders. 

As of press time, the most aggressive 
CAS timings for Corsair's PC2-5400 were 
4-4-4-12. However, some of Corsair's 
lower-frequency DDR2, such as its 
XMS2 4300 now provides lowered laten- 
cies, reaching 3-3-3-8. Corsair's 4-4-4-12 
timings for PC2-5400 are in line with 



what the rest of the in- 
dustry currently offers at 
this frequency. 

The Corsair XMS2 
5400 DDR2 Pro Series 
memory comes in a 24- 
pin package and oper- 
ates at a frequency of 
675MHz. Corsair adds a few extras to its 
PC2-5400, including OCD (off-chip dri- 
ver calibration), which regulates ramping 
voltages for better performance. Corsair 
also includes ODT (on-die termination) 
that further improves system stability. 

Currently, Corsair only offers un- 
buffered and non-ECC versions of its 
PC2-5400. The standard Series memory 
is available in 256MB and 512MB mod- 
ules, either as single modules or 
as matched pairs to 




Corsair XMS2 5400 DDR2 Standard Series 



take advantage of dual-channel configura- 
tions. The Pro Series memory is available 
in 512MB and 1GB densities, also as 
either standalone memory or as matched 
pairs. Corsair includes a lifetime warranty 
with both its standard and Pro Series of 
XMS2 5400 DDR2 memory. 

To see how Corsair's XMS2 5400 
DDR2 memory performs in real-world 
tests, see "Memory Moves To Massive 



Frequencies" on page 121, in which we 
benchmark and overclock the standard 
series memory. However, the only real 
difference between standard and Pro is the 
heatspreader design and activity LEDs. The 
results of our testing and overclocking 
should be very similar to what you would 
achieve with Corsair's Pro Series DDR2. 
Corsair's PC2 5400 DDR2 was among the 
highest performing and most stable of the 
DDR2 memory we tested. 

As with all of Corsair's XMS memory, 
its XMS2 5400 DDR2 is designed with 
overclockers and gamers in mind. With 
DDR2's performance improvements over 
DDR, power users should see a real bene- 
fit to using XMS2 5400, the fastest 
DDR2 Corsair currently offers. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



Model Name 



Frequency 

Manufacturer 

Registered 

/Unbuffered 

ECC/Non-ECC 

Package 

Latency 

Voltage 

Heatspreader 



Warranty 
Other Features 



Available 

Densities 

Pro Series: 1GB 

matched pair 

(2 x512MB) 

Pro Series: 

512MB 

Standard 

Series: 1GB 

matched pair 

(2 x512MB) 

Standard Series: 

512MB matched 

pair (2 x 256MB) 

Standard Series: 

512MB 

Standard Series: 

256MB 



XMS2 5400 DDR2 
(available in standard or 
Pro series) 
675MHz 
Corsair 

Unbuffered 

Non-ECC 

240-pin 

4-4-4-12 

1.9V 

platinum heatspreader 

(Pro series), black 

heatspreader (standard 

series) 

Lifetime Warranty 

OCD and ODT. Pro series 

also features a unique 

heatspreader design and 

24 activity LEDs. 

Model Number 

TWIN2X1024- 
5400C4PRO 

CM2X512-5400C4PRO 



TWIN2X1024-5400C4 

TWIN2X512-5400C4 

CM2X512-5400C4 

CM2X256-5400C4 



CPU / PC Modder 23 






THE PARTS SHOP 






The Mad Modder's 
Toolkit 

Mini-Reviews, Meanderings & Musings 



Ibid you welcome to this edition of the, ah, "Mad Modder's 
Toolkit." In my previous articles, I've made you privy to the 
tools and toys I've found useful as I feed my compulsion to 
mod. Returning readers may be happy to hear that I no longer 
regard the modding jones as a mind-rending succubus to which I 
shamefully succumb. I now hope to sate the urge by embracing it 
more fully, eventually gaining the upper hand. 

I've also attempted to shine a light on a few charlatans attempt- 
ing to part you from your paycheck by selling you substandard 
doohickeys. There seems to be even more chicanery going on this 
time around. If ever a product is held up as perfect, it is only 
because I haven't gotten around to it yet. In other words, this 
Toolkit is pretty much more of the same. Only with more cowbell. 
Much as I would have it otherwise, I cannot bring you this 
missive unassisted. Once again, I am joined by the Barney to my 



Andy, the Drover to my Hank, this time via videoconference as I 
write this. Dear Editor, take a bow. [Editor — (indistinct, possibly 
"ow") Er, I should've backed away from my desk before I bowed. 
Heya, everybody!] 

And if I may, a personal note of thanks to all the thoughtful 
readers who wrote in to express support and encouragement in 
my eternal struggle against that shadowy figure, The Shrubber, 
and his minions. [Ed. — Boy, they've sure run out of good villain 
names.] It is this longstanding conflict that forces me to shelter 
behind the "Mad Modder" nom de plume that has kept me safely 
anonymous thus far. But like Chicken George at the end of 
"Roots," I shall triumph. [Ed. — Hopefully that wasn't a spoiler 
for anyone.] 

by Mad Modder 



Tube Cutter 

I paid: $10 

Available at: www.frozencpu.com 



eek! It's hard 
enough to cut 

watercooling hoses 

absolutely flush so 

that they don't 
leak in those annoying 
press-in couplings. 
You shouldn't have to 
worry about severing a 
fingerprint in the 
process (although 
we'd better take this 
opportunity to fore- 
stall any requests for advice 
along those lines here and now. 
Seriously, don't even ask). 

Anyway, this tubing cutter is 
like a little bagel slicer. You lay 
your hose across the chopping 
block, then close the cutter on 
it to slice it right off. [Ed. — 
Ulp.] No jokes, please. Our 
cutter was unmarked, but the 




one in FrozenCPU's photo says 
Cang-a or Sang-a. 

The Tube Cutter appears to 
be made out of the same type of 
tough polymer generally found 
in HK and Clock pistolas. It 
even has a little spring that 
keeps it closed when you're not 
using it, so that you don't ruin 
your day when you're pawing 



blindly about in your 
desk drawer for 
something else. 
The blade is 
removable, but we 
didn't see replace- 
ment blades sold any- 
where. Power tool the 
blade when it gets 
dull or sharpen it on 
a matchbook from a 
seedy bar in the 
Caribbean if you're 
afield. Either way. 

Unfortunately, our cutter's 
blade wasn't wide enough to 
make perfectly level cuts on our 
large Vi-inch PVC tubing in 
one pass. Other materials and 
diameters had varying results, 
from excellent to passable. The 
main thing is safety. A 



24 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



CaseArts Alien Thumb Screws 

I paid: $4.95 

Available at: www.coolerguys.com 



Oh ho! Know anybody 
who's just a few fin- 
gernails from going totally 
off the edge? So do I. She 
probably wouldn't have last- 
ed much longer before the 
Visitors finally took her to the 
stars for a good probing, but I'm 
sure my prank didn't help her 
stave off her inevitable nuttiness. 

Here's what you do: Choose 
your target. She must have a firm 
conviction that beings from 
another planet are gonna get her, 
probably after numerous, 
improbable clues that no one else 



believes. Such rubes are a 
dime a dozen where I live. 
Try hanging around X- 
Files conventions. 

Next, get a set of these 
Alien Thumb Screws. 
They come in packs of 
four, beautifully nested 
in foam rubber as if in hyper- 
sleep chambers. The screws are 
actually very well-made, and 
functional, too, 'cause they give 
you more turning leverage than 
knurled thumbscrews. 

Screw a few alien heads into 
the back of your victim's PC. 




They'll fit the usual coarse- 
threaded holes you'll find in 
cases, hard drives, and such. 
Now sit back and wait for the 
hysteria. It's a laugh, isn't it? 
[Ed. — Please stay away from my 
sister from now on.] A 



Senfu Inline Digital Water Temp Probe 

I paid: $39.99 

Available at: www.highspeedpc.com 



peaking of 
probes, here's a 



classic bit o' kit for 
the liquid-cooling 

crowd. What better 
way to get an accurate reading of 
your watercooling system's temp 
than with a probe set right into 
the stream? Well, besides that 
$1.39 thermometer you dropped 
into the reservoir, I mean. 

This smart little inline probe 
from Senfu is screwed into a 
substantial metal barrel connec- 
tor. The latter has barbed fit- 
tings with threaded collars, and 




should fit hoses with an inner 
diameter of about 5/16, give or 
take. You'll have up-to-the-sec- 
ond readings in degrees Cel- 
sius. It's like an RSS feed from 
your waterblocks. 

The probe half of this gizmo 
may be well made, but my beef 



is with its display half. It's easi- 
ly readable, but it isn't backlit 
and its bezel doesn't match the 
off-white of its tent-style stand. 

And excuse me, forty bucks 
for a glorified thermometer, 
and there isn't even an on/off 
switch? There's no adapter by 
which to tie the Senfu into your 
PC's power supply, either, so 
you'll either have to leave the 
thing on all the time or pop out 
its watch battery after each use. 

1 st and goal, and Senfu fum- 
bles. [Ed. — (squeaks) Ooh! I 
love lacrosse.] A 



ATX Power Supply Tester 

I paid: $16 

Available at: www.frozencpu.com 



Finally. An end to my 
little shunt wires and 
LED contraptions. At long 
last, someone has come up 
with a simple, reliable way 
to test power supplies. And it's 
only 16 bucks. 



Snap the tester into your 
questionable power supply's 
main connector and flip the 
power switch. A green light 
means Thunderbirds Are Go, 
and your power supply is not 
to blame. On the 



. . . And as my editor proves 
to me time and again, there are 
some problems no amount of 
money can fix. [Ed. — That's 
what they call being snarky, 
isn't it? Isn't it?] A 



It always seems like you 


other hand, it also 


&/M 




can't find a spare PSU when 


means that your 




you're faced with a suddenly 


problem is proba- 






dead system. This baby is 


bly somewhere 


m£ 


*»^ 


faster to use and fits in your 


more expensive. 


*** 


middle desk drawer. It also 


[Ed.— I'll say. 






makes a nice hand-warmer 


Prescription co-pay 




^■jf ' 


when its ceramic resistors heat 


costs are out of 






up a little. 


control these days.] 







/. 



CPU / PC Modder 25 






THE PARTS SHOP 




Sunbeam Hyper Light 

I paid: $19.99 

Available at: www.frozencpu.com 




Yes, you read that tag 
line right: "Art, 
Passion, and Sunbeam." 
That's better than Ther- 
maltake's "Extreme 
Control All Your Life" 
marketing phrase. It's a 
safe bet that most of 
these Asiatic Madison 
Avenue platitudes come 
off sounding much bet- 
ter in Mandarin or 
Cantonese. 

This is a cool-run- 
ning, compact box light that's 



less than a couple of inches in 
each dimension. It's a snap to 
install in any nook or cranny 
inside your case using the 3M 
foam-backed adhesive strips 
Sunbeam throws in. My 
Hyper Light came with a pale 
blue tint to it, not as boldly 
blue as the one in the online 
photo. Sunbeam also sells 
them with white lights, which 
of course you can mod to any 
color you like. 

This little puppy was kind of 
hard to locate online. It took 



some perseverance to ride out 
the cursed string of "out of 
stock" messages I received, but 
FrozenCPU finally came 
through for me. Seems to be a 
good crew there. 

An extra $3 will get you 
power line sleeving and heat 
shrink in your choice of color. 
If you're looking for general 
lighting without the bulk of a 
tube lamp nor the practicality 
concerns of open flames, 
think Hyper. A 



Omnivis Case Badge Lite Kit 

I paid: $15 

Available at: www.frozencpu.com 



I like this one. It's simple, 
but worthwhile. It will 
light up your favorite case 
badge, or at least illuminate 
its edges if the badge is 
opaque. Once installed, it's 
eye-catching and tasteful, like 
Cate Blanchett. 

Drill a Vi-inch hole in your 
case's front panel and deburr it. 
You are on your own if you 
foolishly drill into a fan or hard 
drive. Peel the paper off the 
Badge Lite's adhesive, and stick 
the parts that will fit through 
the hole. Whatever doesn't fit, 



press against the case. Now hang 
your badge on it and light up. 
Omnivis includes a 4-pin 
Molex Y-adapter in the pack- 
age, so you won't have to worry 
about tapping this bit of bling 
into your power currents. The 
company tells you to connect 




the LED's longer pin to the 
power lead's red wire, but it was 
a yellow 12V wire on mine. 

The Badge Lite also comes 
with an alcohol wipe (no, not 
that kind — I tried it) for surface 
prep and even a small sheet of 
Avery sticker paper in case 
you'd like to print your own 
case badge graphic. Believe me, 
it's harder than it seems to fit a 
Frank Frazetta naked-lady-fly- 
ing-a-dragon painting into a 
badge an inch square. [Ed. — 
Seriously, it's art. Er, as long as 
the dragon's wearing pants.] A 



Flexiglow Lazer Beam Kit 

I paid: $3.95 

Available at: www.coolerguys.com 



Talk about light done 
right. These LED 
spotlights are individually 
mountable and adjustable, 
so you can focus them on 
the computer parts you want to 
show off. But that's not all. 

The kicker is that they have 
little plastic lenses that focus 
their light in a tight beam. 
You can pop those babies out 
if you prefer a softer glow. Aw, 
yeah. The interior of our PC is 
starting to look like Barry 
White's old apartment. 

The Flexiglow kit includes 
lots of cord length, a control 



box with Velcro, and a three- 
way switch. One of the "on" 
settings makes the lights blink 
like O Tannenbaum, but we 
can forgive this by never using 
that setting again. [Ed. — 
Good. It sent me into a 
religious trance.] 

Of course, the other shoe 
must drop. I also picked up a 
UV triple LED for the same 
price at Coolerguys.com. 
This one was nonadjustable, 
which was a pity because its 
middle diode was cockeyed. 

The worst part was that it 
looked to be more violet 



than ultra. None of my UV- 
reactive kit seemed to be all 
that impressed by it. I can't 
imagine Barry letting it in the 
door. Not if he really wanted to 
be your everything, baby. A 




26 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Ultra X-Connect 500W Orange 
UV ATX Power Supply 

I paid: $119.99 

Available at: www.frozencpu.com 




I don't often say that 
something is stellar, but 
this power supply has me 
spewing S-words. [Ed. — So 
that was spittle on your last 
draft. Nice.] 

Typical power sup- 
plies look like a 
preschooler's concep- 
tion of a killer squid 
that has just eaten 
SpongeBob, rendered in 
crayon. There's a grey 
box for a head and a 
tangled mass of multi- 



colored wires hanging out for 
tentacles. [Ed. — Whoa! Watch 
your language, freelancer.] 

Not so with the smart, gor- 
geous, yummy X-Connect. You 
can choose the power cables you 
need, and leave out the rest (I 
trust a PCI-Express cable is 
forthcoming). Why other ven- 
dors haven't been doing this all 
along, I'll never know. Each 
cable is beautifully sheathed in 
round rubber tubing that's UV- 
reactive. Orange wasn't my first 
choice of color, but as quickly as 



these have been flying off the 
shelves, it was orange or nuthin'. 

The power unit has 500 
watts on tap, with a bountiful 
34 amps on the 12V rail. It's 
finished in a glossy electric 
blue, which clashes crazily with 
the orange glow from within. 
Somehow that makes me grin. 
I can't stop, either. It's as if 
some celestial redneck has 
found the perfect fishing lure 
to entice me from my mossy 
log lair. [Ed. — I thought I 
smelled some stink bait.] ▲ 



Spire SP-SOUNDPAD01 

I paid: $10.95 

Available at: www.coolerguys.com 



H 



ere be an acoustic 
absorption mat, or a 
hush-hush carpet for those 
of you in the slow row. 
You cut it to fit the inner 
panels of your PC, then stick it 
on. Do not stick it on the out- 
side of your computer, or I will 
be obliged to laugh at you. 

The foam rubberish material 
in a SoundPad absorbs sound 
and vibration, although you'll 
need to cover as much sheet 
metal as possible to hear a dif- 
ference. The SoundPad kit 
comes with two sheets of about 




15.5 x 13.5 inches in size, plus a 
skinnier pair of 15.5 x 7 inches' 
dimensions. The stuff is almost 
a quarter of an inch thick. 

The SoundPad sheets are also 
heat-resistant. Then again, 
they'll insulate your case, negat- 
ing a lot of the passive cooling 



potential of an aluminum 
tower. And they stink to high 
heaven. [Ed. — I could've sworn 
that was stink bait.] 

These are not a bad value at 
$10.95, although I should 
point out that turning down 
your fans costs much less. But 
really, with some interior light- 
ing and a little GI Joe doll in a 
straitjacket, you could make the 
world's first Padded Cell Mod. 
The short-sighted may ask, 
'What the...?" But let this be 
your modding mantra, young 
padawan: "Why not?" A 



Chicago Electric Heat Gun 

I paid: $19.99 
Available at: 
www.harborfreight.com 




If you don't trust yourself 
with a propane torch, this 
might be your equivalent of 
kiddie scissors when you're 
applying heat shrink tubing. It 
may look like a ping-pong ball 
gun, but it acts more like a hair 
drier on nitrous. 
Heat shrink is 
your friend. Sure, 
it can be and is 
used for evil, as it 
is by my arch- 
nemesis, He To 
Whom One Must 
Not Refer As 
"Schnookums" 



Within His Hearing. That 
girlie-man once shrank my 
thumbs together with heat 
shrink tubing as if in a 
Chinese finger trap, and left 
me on an island infested with 
Tri-Gens. [Ed. — That was a 
video game, dude.] It is now, 
Editor dear. [Ed. — Um.] 

Anyway, heat shrink covers 
up soldered connections much 
more nicely than electrical tape. 
It also makes the edges of your 
cable sleeving nice and neat. 
Just slip some on and hit it with 
hot air. This Chicago Electric 
model gives you a choice of 



heat settings: 630 or 1,000 
degrees Fahrenheit (332/538 
degrees Celsius). This baby will 
also take off paint if you let it. 
Hence the scrapers included in 
the kit. 

One tip: don't leave this 
thing on for more than a few 
minutes at a time. The only 
heat gun I ever killed was the 
one I used to defrost an air 
conditioner's A-coil that had 
frozen solid. Oh, and keep 
your pets away when you're 
wielding this scorcher. Please, 
think of the kittens. A 



CPU / PC Modder 27 






THE PARTS SHOP 




pcToys Neon Maxx Black Light 
Accent Paint 

I paid: $3.95 

Available at: www.pctoys.com 




The term "UV-reac- 
tive" seems to rely on 
the eye of the beholder. I've 
found that some whizbang- 
ers glow nicely under black 
light A, but go 
opaque or look 
flat under UV 
lamp B. Yet none 
of the black 
lights in my pos- 
session could 
make this invisi- 
ble paint show 
up at all. 



It didn't help my anticipa- 
tion to find that my online 
source was out of every color 
but hot pink. Still, I have fond 
memories of a Yamaha electric 
guitar in hot pink from the age 
of hair metal, so I bought a 
can. I shook it for several min- 
utes. I sprayed a good coat on a 
sheet of paper. And I couldn't 
see anything. 

So far, so good. pcToys says 
that this stuff is supposed to be 
transparent until you smack it 
with UV light. Tragically, mine 



stayed transparent. You know, I 
could've bought some halal 
with that four bucks. [Ed. — 
Hold the red sauce, please.] 
Yeah, d'accord, dear Editor. 
That red sauce usually makes 
me UV-reactive. 

Anyway, the big deal with 
this paint is that you can 
remove it with Windex or soap 
and water. Or you could just 
leave it alone, assuming you 
can't see it in the first place. A 



Black & Decker PD360 Cordless 
Screwdriver 

I paid: $19.99 

Available at: www.amazon.com 




If you do a lot of screw- 
ing, sooner or later 
you're gonna want to buy a 
power tool to help take the 
work out of it. Here's a 
rechargeable soldier that's 
nice and ergonomic. 

The PD360 offers three 
choices of grip position to 
fit your favorite angle of 
attack. It's not a top-tier 
model, but it does come 
with a little headlight and 
two each slotted and 
Phillips tips. And although 
it's only a 3.6V jobber, it's 



still plenty torquey enough for 
the screws in a typical PC. Just 
don't strip out any aluminum 
threads with it, or you'll have to 
retap and find an oversized 
screw. That means exposing 
yourself to peril during a trip or 
two to the hardware store. 

This screwdriver inexplicably 
comes in a plastic package that's 
evidently childproof, and adult- 
proof too, for that matter. After 
I cut off the welded seams from 
three sides of the package, the 
edge of the plastic was sharp 
enough to slice gashes into my 



thumb. These wounds are still 
stinging at this writing, 
although I have analyzed them 
for known toxins, including 
blowfish venom. 

And still the package defiant- 
ly held together at two spots in 
the middle. I resorted to the old 
"King Kong" (circa 1976) trick: 
Grab the snake by the jaws and 
pull apart until something 
breaks. It worked. [Ed. — Giant 
monkeys are cool.] A 



Cable-Safe Complete Cable Manager 

I paid: $34.50 

Available at: www.cableorganizer.com 



Kipple collects. 
1 



It gathers. It 
spreads. I think it 

even breeds. 

There may be no 
permanent remedy for all 
the junk mail, Indian take- 
away boxes, and partially 
useful objects clogging the 
top of your desk, but you 
can take control of what's 
underneath it. A well-consid- 
ered cable manager like this one 
can help. 

Snap the Complete Cable 
Manager together, clamp it to 
your desk, and start hanging 




stuff on it. Set your switch 
and cable modem on the 
brackets, then secure them 
with the included bungee 
cords. Loop your cables and 
power strip's cord with the 
kit's Velcro straps, then han 



1'em. A couple of photos at 
www.cableorganizer.com 
/cable-safe will give you 
other ideas. Other sources 
knock six or seven bucks 
off the price, by the way. 
Half an hour later, you'll 
have nothing under your 
desk to step on, kick, or 
spill mulligatawny soup 
into. Of course, the rest of your 
life will still be the muddled 
mess it always was. [Ed. — My 
mom said she was going to help 
me tidy up this weekend.] ▲ 



28 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Enermax Security Screw Kit 

I paid: $14.95 

Available at: www.coolerguys.com 




Dang, I had fully 
expected to make 
fun of this. These security 
screws are no more than 
marginally useful, but they 
do look trick. 

You get 16 PC screws in this 
kit, eight each in two head pat- 
terns. No slotted, Phillips, Allen, 
or Torx screwdriver will be able 
to budge them once they're in. 
Each screw has a sloping outer 
collar that turns freely, so it's 
unlikely that even a Vise-Grip 
will be able to remove one. 



There's a takedown screwdriver 
with a reversible tip for both 
head patterns in the kit, plus 
pocketable keys for quick main- 
tenance in the field. 

The pomp and circumstance 
of this kit's packaging is laud- 
able. Inside its tin is a wine-col- 
ored foam insert with precisely 
cut channels for each part. You'll 
get a thrill just taking stuff out of 
the tin and putting it back. 

The ESSK's Achilles's heel is 
rather obvious. Unlike a padlock 
or deadbolt kit at the hardware 



store, each kit comes with the 
same two screw head patterns. 
Which means that any dedicated 
LAN party thief with 15 bucks 
will be carrying a set of skeleton 
keys to any "locked" PC he sees. 
Remember, nothing trumps 
keeping an eye on your precious 
hardware when you're among 
the envious. [Ed. — Boy, I know 
that feeling. I drive a Neon.] 
Enermax has merely provided 
you with some gentrification 
accessories that will discourage 
casual horkers. A 



Enermax Ultimate Fan Controller 

I paid: $38.97 

Available at: www.case-mod.com 



~T% reaker 1-9! If you 



too remember a 
period when this country 
— found itself captivated by 
C.W. McCall, Jerry Reed, 
and trucker culture, perhaps 
you share a soft spot for CB 
radio. I'm not saying I do, but 
you might. Hammer down! 
Rabbit ears! 

Enermax's model UC- 
A8FATR4 fan controller/tem- 
perature gauge has it all over 
the competition for gotcher- 
back-door cool. Four real 
knobs! Push buttons and sliding 



switches! Enermax 
even duplicated that 
cool mid-1970s 
futuristic font to let 
everyone know that 
the Ultimate Fan 
Controller is "dual- 
dispaly ready," 
whatever that is. 
Bear in the air! 
What's your 20? 

Ah, me. I love this thing's 
extruded aluminum frame, 
myself. You can change its front 
bezel — silver and black ones 
come with it — and backlight its 




LCD display in green or blue, 
depending upon which bank of 
fans and probes you want to 
monitor. Convoyyyyy! A 



Mini-Box.com PW-200-V Power Supply 

I paid: $49.95 

Available at: www.mini-box.com 



When you're 
setting up a 
covert surveillance 

perimeter around 

your sanctum sanc- 
torum, the smaller the device, 
the better. This applies to the 
sensors and gathering apparati 
at points of contact, as well as 
to the data aggregation and pro- 
cessing nodes. [Ed. — Eh?] 

In other words, when you're 
building a stealth mini-ITX 
box, you do not want to saddle 
it with a power supply that 
takes up twice the space. If you 
can't get away with one of those 



low-power boards that only 
need a 12V barrel connection, 
spend a bit more and clip this 
200-watt mini-ITX power sup- 
ply between that 1 2V wall wart 
and your maxi-mini trouper. 

This minimalist PSU snaps 
into your board's 20-pin main 
connector. It also has power 
leads for an hdd, an odd, 
and an fdd. It's efficient, has 
low RFI/EMI levels, and is 
totally silent. Like a 
Doberman. 

The PW-200-V is stout 
enough to run P4 mother- 
boards, but it doesn't have 



the separate 4-pin connector 
many such boards need. Still, 
it doesn't take much process- 
ing power to decide when to 
lower the portcullis and arm 
the preliminary countermea- 
sures. [Ed. — I wondered why 
there's a surcharge whenever I 
ship you anything.] ▲ 




CPU / PC Modder 29 






AVIATOR GX7™ 

TAKS FLIGHT & BREAK THe 
BARRIERS Of= MOBILE COMPUTING" 



FURY G5C 



STEP INTO THe NEXT DIMENSION" 



SONIC BOOM" 



THE EVOLUTION Of= A REVOLUTION' 



• Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor with 
HT Technology 3.40GHz 

• Reflexxion Series Metallic Automotive Finish 

• 1024MB PC3200 Low Latency DDR RAM 

• ATI Radeon Mobility 9700 256MB DVI Out 

• 2 x 60GB 7200rpm HDD w/ 8MB Cache 

• 4X DVD±RW/ CD-RW Drive 

• 17" WSXGA+ Super Clear LCD (1680x1050) 

• 802.11g Turbo 108MBit/ Gigabit Ethernet 

• Built-in Subwoofer or TV-Tuner w/ Remote 

• Built-in 6-in-l Flash Media Card Reader 

• Microsoft® Windows XP Professional Edition 

• System Binder w/ Performance Benchmarks 

• Custom Disaster Recovery DVD 

• 1-Year Platinum Warranty 24/7 Support Onsite 



■ Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor 560 with 
HT Technology 

• Intel® 915 Express Chipset 
' 1024MB 533MHz DDR-2 RAM 

■ ATI Radeon X800 Pro 256MB DVI Out 

■ 120GB 7200rpm HDD w/ 8MB Cache 

■ 16X52X24X52X CD-RW/ DVD Combo Drive 

■ Gigabit Ethernet Controller 

' Microsoft® Windows XP Home Edition 

■ Brushed Aluminum Alloy Case 

■ Enermax 350W Power Supply 

■ System Binder w/ Performance Benchmarks 
1 Custom Disaster Recovery DVD 

' 1-Year Platinum Warranty 24/7 Support Onsite 



Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor 560 with 
HT Technology 

Reflexxion Series Metallic Automotive Finish 

Silencer Package for Reduced Fan Noise 

1024MB 533MHz DDR-2 RAM 

ATI Radeon X800 Pro 256MB DVI Out 

2 x 250GB 7200rpm HDD w/ 8MB Cache 

Plextor 12X DVD±RW/ CD-RW Drive 

Creative Labs Audigy ZS 

7-in-l Floppy & Media Reader/ Gigabit Ethernet 

Brushed All-Aluminum Case / 431W Enermax 

Microsoft® Windows XP Professional Edition 

System Binder w/ Performance Benchmarks 

Custom Disaster Recovery DVD 

1-Year Platinum Warranty 24/7 Support Onsite 



$3999 



Customize & Price on hypersonic-pc.com 



$1699 



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Game on... and on, and on, and on. 

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to put you in control of the most demanding games of 
today and tomorrow. 




1 .800.520.0498 | http://www.hypersonic-pc.com 

Intel, Intel logo, Intel Inside logo, Intel Centrino, Intel Centrino logo, Celeron, Intel Xeon, Intel SpeedStep, Itanium, Pentium, 
and Pentium III Xeon are trademakrs or registered trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the United States 
and in other countries. 



i ^\ v. r - n ^ 



Take It To The Limit 

We Overclock A Slew Of New Processors 



T 



echies and nontechies alike can 
appreciate custom windows, 
hand-built cases, and well-placed 
cold-cathode lights, but most people 
won't notice some of the most important 
tweaks: performance modifications, those 
adjustments that push your system to the 
very edge of its capabilities. Don't get us 
wrong — we love aesthetic mods as much 
as the next tech-head, but if you want to 
truly change its personality, you'll need to 
adjust the computer's heart and brains, 
the processor. Overclock your CPU and 
you can convert your system from a tired 
rig to a perky PC or from an already high- 
end machine to a raging beast. Then 
again, you can also convert your perfectly 
good PC to a smoking wreck. Hey, no 
one said this wouldn't be risky. 

Of course, we won't send you into the 
fray without first showing you the basics. 
Whether you're new to overclocking or 
an old pro planning to upgrade your 
motherboard or CPU, you'll benefit from 
our Case Studies discoveries. As with our 
previous PC Madder issue (version 1.1), 
we've matched eight hot new processors 
with some of the most popular, feature- 
laden motherboards available. Mobo 
manufacturers take advantage of a variety 
of chipsets, including ALI, Intel, VIA, 
and NVIDIA devices, so we tested each 
processor on three motherboards. Where 
possible, we varied chipsets, but we dis- 
covered that the chipset alone does not a 
motherboard make: Some motherboards 
that boasted identical chipsets provided 
varying performances. 

Test Systems 

Thanks to some new technologies, 
such as PCI Express and DDR2, our Intel 
and AMD test systems' core components 
are not identical. That said, we used iden- 
tical components whenever possible and 
used similar components when technolo- 
gy requirements split our spec lists. 




Our common components included 
80GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard 
drives; 470W Enermax PSUs (our Intel 
system used the EG475P-VE-SFMA fla- 
vor and our AMD system included a 
EG475AX-VE-SFMA); Mitsumi floppy 
drives; and 1GB (two identical 512MB 
DIMMs) of OCZ EL Dual-Channel 
Series Gold Edition DDR PC-4400 
memory. When we encountered Intel 
boards that required DDR2 memory, we 
used 1GB (512MB x2) of OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 memory. 

None of our AMD-based motherboards 
feature DDR2 or PCI-E, so we grabbed a 
256MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics 
card for our AMD test system and a 
128MB ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E graph- 
ics card for the Intel rig. We also chose 
separate paths when we selected air cooling 
devices. Stock Intel heatsink/fan combos, 
which have copper cores, hold their own in 
overclocked systems, but AMD's stock alu- 
minum combos simply can't take the heat. 
We started our AMD system with a mas- 
sive, all-copper Thermalright SLK948-U 
and a 92mm Vantec Tornado fan and then 
switched to a Thermaltake Pipe 101 (CL- 
P0006) heatsink when we damaged the 
former heatsink's backplate. 

Testing 

You'll know it when you find your sys- 
tem's breaking point (the Blue Screen of 
Death and an unbootable PC are pretty 
obvious signs). But once you gently ease 



your system back into overclocked-but-sta- 
ble territory, you'll need to enlist a bench- 
mark to determine how much difference 
those extra megahertz make. Heavy-duty 
benchmarks also make decent stability tests; 
if your overclocked computer crashes dur- 
ing a benchmark, it will probably crash 
when you run more important applica- 
tions. As in our past issue of PC Modder 
(version 1.1), we used Futuremark's 
PCMark04 (build 110), which runs a vari- 
ety of office tasks and provides individual 
component scores. We also dumped the 
controversial 3DMark03 and used the lat- 
est version of the graphics-intensive gaming 
benchmark, 3DMark05 (also build 110). 
We rounded out our benchmark list with 
Doom 3's built-in demo (we knocked the 
Antialiasing setting to 2X and selected the 
High Quality, 1,280 x 1,024 resolution). 

Once we assembled each motherboard/ 
processor combo and installed the latest 
drivers, we kicked off the overclocking 
process by benchmarking the system at 
stock, out-of-the-box settings. Next, we 
entered the BIOS and increased the CPU 
frequency, benchmarked the system again, 
and compared the new scores to our base- 
line. As we pushed our systems further, we 
also increased the CPU voltage. In some 
cases our motherboards offered automatic 
overclocking features, so we tried these as 
well. We inched each test system faster 
several megahertz at a time until we found 
that fine line between performance and 
paperweight. Finally, we benchmarked 
our systems at their max stable speeds and 
compared the scores to our baseline, again. 

Before we dive into the Case Studies, 
we'd like to thank Coby Boring, Andy 
Gerace, and Jeff Roberts, our intrepid 
techs who assembled our systems and 
demonstrated their watercooling expertise 
when they built our Race For The Gold 
(see page 93) systems. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 31 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel Pentium 4 540 & 
Soltek SL-915Pro-FGR 



Many users equate a processor s 
clock speed with perfor- 
mance, a trend on which 
Intel has capitalized heavily over the years 
as it pushed clock speeds in order to mar- 
ket its processors. Although clock speed 
plays an important role in overall perfor- 
mance, there are other factors to consider. 
Some of the changes Intel made to its 
new Prescott core actually reduce the 
number of instructions per clock cycle, 
making a 3.2GHz Northwood faster than 
a 3.2GHz Prescott. Although changes 
such as a longer data pipeline reduce 
Prescott's number of instructions per 
cycle, they make it possible for Intel to 
push clock speed beyond the limitations 
of Northwood. Increased clock speed 
eventually makes up for the lower number 
of instructions per clock cycle. 

Unfortunately for Intel, it's getting 
harder and harder to increase clock 
speeds, and the company is beginning to 
shift its focus. Intel's new naming con- 
vention, for instance, deemphasizes clock 
speed. In the next three case studies, we'll 
take a close look at Intel's new Pentium 4 
540. The first digit of the new name gives 



Northwoods. The expanded cache is part- 
ly to make up for the extended data 
pipeline. Prescott cores are also produced 
on Intel's new 90-nanometer fabrication 
process. The smaller transistors, however, 
leak more energy than Northwood cores 
with 130nm transistors, which causes 
Prescott to run hotter than Northwood. 

Perhaps the most recognizable change 
to the P4 540, however, is the small gold 
contacts that replace the pins formerly 
found on the bottom of the processor. 
The P4 540 uses Intel's new LGA 775 
socket, which places the pins on the moth- 
erboard socket rather than the processor. 
It's this design aspect that sets the P4 540 
apart from the 3.2E GHz Pentium 4, 
which also uses a Prescott core. 

Motherboard 

For this case study, we'll be overclock- 
ing the new P4 540 on a Soltek board 
that not only uses the new LGA 775 
socket, but also utilizes Intel's new 915G 
chipset. The 915G is similar to the 915P 
in that both chipsets support DDR and 
DDR2 memory, as well as PCI Express. 

Like all the 915 boards we've seen, the 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4 540 


Motherboard 


Soltek SL-915Pro-FGR 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


AMIBIOS 


BIOS Version 


08.00.11 


Chipset Driver 


6.1.0.1008 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDR PC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker EG4 
75P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



slots, ignoring DDR2 completely. As a 
result we were forced to test this board 
with our OCZ DDR memory modules 
instead of our DDR2 memory modules. 

Soltek pairs the 915G with Intel's new 
ICH6. The ICH6 supports four SATA 
150 drives (twice the number supported 
by the ICH5). The ICH6 only supports 
two IDE devices through a single IDE 
channel. An ITE IT8212F provides two 
additional channels for IDE RAID. 

The ICH6 is coupled with an Azalia 
audio codec. The new codec provides 7.1- 
channel surround sound, as well as 



Intel Pentium 4 540 
Soltek SL-915Pro-FGR 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 


Processor 
Speed 

3.2GHz 

3.47GHz 



FSB Multiplier Voltage PCMark04 

200MHz 16 1.328V 4276 

217MHz 16 1.328V 4618 


PCMark04 
CPU 

4230 

4581 


PCMark04 
Memory 

4130 

4453 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

3080 

3072 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4509 

4546 


3DMark05 

1575 

1579 


Doom 3 

13.9fps 

13.9fps 



you an idea of the processor family. In 
this case the 5 signifies this is a desktop 
Pentium 4, while the final two digits give 
us an idea of relative performance. A 
3.2GHz P4 540 is faster than a 2.8GHz 
P4 520 but somewhat slower than a 
3.6GHz P4 560. 

Based on the new Prescott core, the 
Pentium 4 540 utilizes 1MB of L2 Cache, 
twice the amount of L2 found on older 



915G completely does away with the AGP 
slot in favor of a PCI-E xl6 slot. As you 
can probably guess, the 915G includes 
integrated video like the older 865G. The 
integrated graphics, however, are pretty 
poor, so we'll rely on our ASUS Extreme 
AX600XT video card, which uses an ATI 
Radeon X600 XT GPU, instead. 

Although the 915G supports DDR2, 
Soltek only included four DDR memory 



SPDIF audio inputs and outputs. The 
motherboard includes an optical SPDIF 
input and an optical SPDIF output. 

Gigabit Ethernet and Fire Wire 400 are 
also available via the I/O panel on the 
back of the board along with four USB 
2.0 ports. Two additional USB headers 
on the motherboard support four more 
USB ports on the chassis or on the 
included bracket. 



32 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Overclock 

We wanted to see exactly 
how far we could push the P4 
540 on the Soltek board, but to 
properly gauge our results, we 
needed some baseline scores. 
We ran Doom 3, PCMark04, 
and 3DMark05 at stock speeds. 

The 4276 PCMark04 score 
was low, as was the 4230 CPU 
score. The 4130 PCMark04 
Memory score was also low, 
even compared to other boards 
using DDR memory. We were 
disappointed the X600XT only 
bought us a 3080 Graphics 
score, but the 4509 HDD score 
was very strong. We did manage 
a strong 1575 3DMark05 score. 
Doom 3 frame rates were at 
13.9fps at 1,280 x 1,024 with 
2X antialiasing and in High- 
Quality mode. 

Once we had our default scores, we 
rebooted and pressed DELETE to access 
the CMOS Setup Utility. The Soltek 
board uses an AMIBIOS version 
0.8.00.1 1, the latest version at test time. 

Overclocking options are somewhat 
hidden. We selected Advanced BIOS 
Features from the main menu and then 
Soltek Performance Options. From here 
we were able to adjust a number of over- 
clocking options. By default, CPU Linear 
Frequency was enabled on our board. 
Disabling this option causes the Smart 
Acceleration Technology option to 
appear. These settings let the system 
dynamically overclock itself when you 
need more processing power. We left the 
CPU Linear Frequency Enabled and 
increased the CPU Clock option from 
200 to 210MHz using the plus key (+). 
We left Core Voltage at 1.5V, DIMM 
Voltage at 2.6V, and CPU Voltage set to 
Auto (1.328V according to CPU-Z). 

After saving our settings, we had the 
processor running at 3.36GHz. The 
increase in FSB speed also left our memory 
running at 420MHz. We ran 3DMark05 
to gauge system stability and managed a 
1570 score. We were a little disappointed 
to see performance fall a bit, but at least 




Northbridge 
(Intel 91 5G) 



20-pin ATX 
Power Connector 

12V Power Connector 



Southbridge 
(Intel 1CH6) 

Audio Codec 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




the system was stable, allowing us to push 
the FSB up to 220MHz. At this speed the 
board refused to POST and reset itself to 
its 3.2GHz clock speed. We tried increas- 
ing core, DIMM, and CPU voltages, but 
no combination resulted in a system stable 
enough to complete a POST, so we low- 
ered our FSB to 215MHz, resulting in a 
3.44GHz processor clock speed. We reran 
3DMark05 to test stability and managed 
a 1580, five points higher than our initial 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



* Soltek SL-915Pro-FGR 


Stock Performance 


1575 




Overclocked Performance 


1579 






ABIT AG8 






Stock Performance 


1414 




Overclocked Performance 


1443 






MSI 925X Neo Platinum 


Stock Performance 


1453 




Overclocked Performance 


1455 





score. Aware of our problems at 
220MHz, we increased the FSB 
to 217MHz. This increased the 
CPU's clock speed to 3.47GHz 
and resulted in a slightly slower 
1579 3DMark05 score. 

Up to this point, there was 
no need to increase the core, 
DIMM, or CPU voltages, and 
our processor was running reli- 
ably. Increasing the FSB just 
1MHz, however, prevented a 
successful POST. This seems 
consistent with the overclocking 
limit encountered on many 915 
and 925X motherboards. Some 
believe Intel purposely intro- 
duced the limit, while others 
think it's a more complicated 
interaction among various buses 
on the motherboard. 

Whatever the reason, some 
boards fall victim to it, while 
others don't. The Soltek SL- 
915Pro-FGR is clearly affected by the 
dreaded overclock limit, and there was 
nothing we could do other than concede 
defeat and reset the FSB back to 217MHz 
to run some final benchmarks. 

The jump from 3.2 to 3.47GHz didn't 
dramatically increase scores, but there was 
some improvement. Our PCMark04 
score increased 342 points to 4618, and 
our CPU score increased 351 points to 
4581. As we increased our FSB, we also 
increased our memory frequency, result- 
ing in a 323 point increase to 4453. Our 
already disappointing graphics score actu- 
ally fell further to 3072, while our HDD 
score saw a slight increase to 4546. The 
Doom 3 frame rate held at 13.9fps. 

Final Word 

This is why we test the same processor 
with multiple boards. Considering we 
didn't need to increase voltage through- 
out our testing, it's easy to conclude the 
Soltek board was our primary barrier to 
moving beyond 3.47GHz. As you'll see in 
the next case study, the P4 540 is capable 
of going much faster. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 33 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel 

Pentium 4 540 

& ABIT AG8 



Intel's Pentium 4 540 managed to 
post some decent scores in the pre- 
vious review, but our overclocking 
efforts were hampered by the 10% over- 
clock limit that constrains some 915 and 
925X motherboards. Whatever the cause, 
the overclock limit in the prior case study 
was absolute. The system was stable and 
ran perfectly fine at 217MHz. Increasing 
the FSB to 218MHz, however, prevented 
the board from completing its POST. 

Some manufacturers, including ABIT 
have found ways around the 10% limit. 
We'll try out ABIT's AG8 to see just how 
much farther we can take the P4 540. 

Motherboard 

The AG8 uses Intel's 915P chipset, 
which lacks the integrated video included 
with the 915G. Like the Soltek board in 
our previous case study, the AG8 only 
includes DDR memory slots. So, even 
though the 915P supports DDR2, you 
won't be able to use it on this board. 

The AG8 does include an Intel ICH6R 
on the southbridge that supports SATA 
RAID. The advantage of Intel's ICH6R 
over the older ICH5R is that the new 
southbridge supports four SATA drivers 



The AG8 includes eight USB 2.0 
ports and three FireWire 400 ports. 
Four USB ports and one FireWire port 
are included on the board's back I/O 
panel, while two additional USB and 
two more FireWire ports come on an 
included bracket. 

Instead of a new high-definition audio 
codec that handles 7.1 -channel surround 
sound, ABIT uses an older AC'97 audio 
codec that supports 5.1-channel sur- 
round sound on the AG8. The board 
does, however, include an optical SPDIF 
input and output. The Realtek 811 OS 
provides Gigabit Ethernet but, sadly, it 
uses the PCI bus instead of the PCI-E 
bus. This places a greater limit on net- 
work speeds, as the 33MHz PCI bus will 
keep speeds well below 1,000Mbps. 

ABIT includes its uGuru software 
with all of its motherboards. The soft- 
ware lets you view the board's specifica- 
tions and even make adjustments from 
within Windows. We don't always trust 
Windows-based overclocking software, 
though, so we'll make all of our changes 
through the board's BIOS. Still, it pro- 
vides a handy way to double-check the 
board's settings after Windows boots. 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4 540 


Motherboard 


ABIT AG8 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award BIOS 


BIOS Version 


16 


Chipset Driver 


6.2.1.1001 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDR PC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker EG475P- 
VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



little fast, as the FSB was already at 
204MHz before we made any adjustments. 

The 1414 3DMark05 score was low 
compared to the 1575 stock 3DMark05 
score in our last case study. The AG8, 
however, beat the Soltek board in most 
PCMark04 categories. We managed an 
overall PCMark04 score of 4976, a CPU 
score of 4978, and a Memory score of 
5135. Our average frame rate in Doom 3 
was also much better, as we managed 16fps 
at 1,280 x 1,024 with 2X antialiasing. 

After recording our default scores, 
we rebooted the system and pressed 
DELETE to access the CMOS Setup 
Utility. The uGuru Utility at the top of 
the main menu contains all the overclock- 



Intel Pentium 4 540 




















ABITAG8 




















Processor 








PCMark04 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 






Speed FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


CPU 


Memory 


Graphics 


HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 3.2GHz 200MHz 


16 


1.3625 V 


4976 


4978 


5135 


2794 


4437 


1414 


16fps 


Performance 




















Overclocked 3.92GHz 245MHz 


16 


1.6125V 


4242 


4143 


5414 


2816 


4443 


1443 


17.2fps 


Performance 





















instead of just two. Support for two more 
drives means you can configure more 
complex RAID arrays such as RAID 0+1. 
Intel also includes its new Matrix storage 
technology, which allows you to mirror 
and strip data across four partitions on 
two hard drives. 



You can also monitor temperature and 
fan controls through uGuru. 

Performance 

Again, we checked out the board's stock 
performance before we made any adjust- 
ments. By default, the board did run a 



ing options. By default, the board sets the 
FSB speed according to the processor 
detected. To manually adjust the FSB, we 
selected CPU Operating Speed and 
pressed PAGE UP to change the value to 
User Define. We were then able to select 
the External Clock option and adjusted it 



34 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



to 210MHz using the PAGE 
DOWN key. 

The uGuru utility will let 
you adjust the processor's multi- 
plier, but only down to 14X or 
15X from 16X. The DRAM 
Frequency option was set to 
Auto. The Auto setting can 
sometimes cause the mother- 
board to underclock the memo- 
ry when you increase the FSB, 
providing added stability but 
hindering performance. Our 
OCZ memory should be able to 
handle the extra speed, so we 
adjusted this option from Auto 
to DDR400. 

You can adjust the PCI 
Express Clock in the uGuru 
CMOS utility. We left the PCI 
Express Clock at Auto for now. 
This setting lets the board opti- 
mize the PCI-E bus frequency 

while overclocking. We left the 
PCI Clock set to 33.33MHz and left the 
CPU, DRAM, and northbridge voltages 
set to Normal. 

After saving our options and exiting 
uGuru, we rebooted into Windows and 
confirmed our changes through CPU-Z 
and uGuru. The processor's 16X multipli- 
er meant it was now running at 3.36GHz. 
We ran 3DMark05 to test the system's 
stability and scored a 1408. Despite the 
slight drop in our 3DMark05 score, the 
system was stable, so we pushed on to 
220MHz. If we were going to encounter 
the 10% limit, it'd probably be here. The 
system, however, managed a successful 
POST and booted easily into Windows 
with the processor running at 3.52GHz. 
3DMark05 completed with a 1438 score 
(24 points better than our stock score). 
According to uGuru, the PCI-E bus was 
now running at 1 12MHz. 

"When we pushed the FSB to 230MHz 
(3.7GHz) the system rebooted before it 
had completely loaded Windows. We 
returned to the BIOS and increased the 
CPU voltage from 1.3625V to 1.4125V. 
This time Windows booted successfully, 
but 3DMark05 crashed while testing. We 
increased the CPU Voltage once again to 
1.4375V, and this seemed to stabilize the 




12V Power 
Connector 

24-pin ATX 
Power Connector 



Northbridge (Intel 915P) 



AC97 Audio Codec 

Southbridge 
(Intel 1CH6R) 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




system. We managed a score of 1440 in 
3DMark05 and noted that the PCI-E bus 
had risen to 1 12MHz. 

At 240MHz, the system was once again 
rebooting before it could load Windows. It 
took quite a dramatic voltage increase to 
1.6325V to stabilize the processor, which 
was now running at 3.84GHz. We also had 
to increase the DIMM voltage to 2.80V, 
and the northbridge voltage to 1.70V Our 
3DMark05 score fell to 1436, but at that 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



Soltek SL-915Pro-FRG 


Stock Performance 


1575 


Overclocked Performance 


1579 




* ABIT AG8 




Stock Performance 


1414 


Overclocked Performance 


1443 




MSI 925X Neo Platinum 




Stock Performance 


1453 


Overclocked Performance 


1455 



point, the system finally seemed 
stable. 

Leaving all other settings in 
place and increasing the FSB to 
245MHz kept the board from 
completing its POST and reset 
our settings to their default val- 
ues. We then set the FSB to 
245MHz and set the CPU volt- 
age to 1.6375V but left the 
DIMM and northbridge voltage 
at their default 2.60V and 
1.50V values. This time the sys- 
tem booted, but 3DMark05 
crashed. Increasing both the 
DIMM and northbridge voltage 
by 0.2V while decreasing the 
CPU voltage to 1.6125V let us 
complete 3DMark05 with a 
solid score of 1443. With the 
245MHz FSB, the processor 
was just shy of the 4GHz mark, 

running at 3.92GHz. Attempts 

to push the processor further 
proved unsuccessful. 

Our overall PCMark04 and CPU 
scores were both down compared to our 
stock scores at 4242 and 4143, respective- 
ly, but our Memory, Graphics, and HDD 
scores improved. Our Memory score 
increased to 5414 while our Graphics and 
HDD scores increased to 2816 and 4443. 
Our increase from 3.2GHz to 
3.92GHz earned us an extra 1.2fps in 
Doom, as our average frame rate peaked 
at 17.2fps. 

Final Word 

The main reason Intel introduced 
Prescott was to give the company a plat- 
form on which it could increase clock 
speeds, so it's not surprising to find that 
the P4 540 has plenty of room for over- 
clockers to work with. The ABIT AG8 
motherboard also proved to be an excellent 
one for overclockers. We were a little dis- 
appointed by the low PCMark04 scores, 
but the high 3DMark05 and Doom 3 
scores more than made up for it. There's 
no doubt ABIT has a decent workaround 
in place for overclockers who want more 
than 10%. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 35 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel 

Pentium 4 540 

& MSI 925X Neo 

Platinum 



In our first two case studies, we 
looked at different versions of Intel's 
new chipset: the 915G and 915P. In 
our first review, we noted that the 10% 
overclocking limit that plagues some 
boards prevented us from increasing our 
FSB beyond 217MHz. In the second 
review, we saw that some manufacturers 
were able to work around that limit, as we 
reached 245MHz with our ABIT AG8 
motherboard. 

This is our first look at Intel's 925X 
motherboard. Can the MSI 925X Neo 
Platinum find a way around the 10% 
overclock limit? 

Motherboard 

Intel's 92 5X northb ridge is similar to 
the 915 chipsets we looked at in the two 
previous case studies. According to Intel, 
the 925X used more aggressive memory 
timings that should provide a perfor- 
mance kick. This is similar to the 875P's 



by the DDR memory in the previous two 
case studies. Aside from being more energy 
efficient, DDR2's lower power consump- 
tion also allows DDR2-533 to run much 
cooler than DDR400. 

Although DDR2 is faster, it does suffer 
from higher latency. DDR2 PCMark04 
Memory scores are higher than DDR 
scores, but DDR2 doesn't seem to have 
much impact on application benchmarks 
such as 3DMark05. 

As with the ABIT AG8, the MSI 925X 
Neo Platinum uses Intel's ICH6R on the 
southbridge. The ICH6R supports four 
SATA drives and allows you to construct 
more complex RAID arrays such as RAID 
0+1. Intel's new Matrix storage technolo- 
gy provides performance and redundancy 
by letting users mirror and stripe data on 
just two drives. 

The ICH6R only supports a single IDE 
channel for two IDE devices. A VIA 6410 
controller, however, lets you construct a 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4 540 


Motherboard 


MSI 925X Neo Platinum 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Award BIOS 


BIOS Version 1 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.1.1002 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 


7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



can connect a 7.1 -channel speaker system 
using the audio jacks. 

Gigabit Ethernet is becoming a popu- 
lar feature that's often found on high- 
end chipsets such as the 925X. The MSI 
925X Neo Platinum, however, does 
Gigabit right. The Broadcom DBM5751 
Gigabit Ethernet controller uses the PCI 
Express bus, avoiding the bottleneck cre- 
ated by the older, slower PCI bus. 

Performance 

As always, we grabbed some baseline 
scores before we started overclocking. At 
stock speeds, the MSI 925X Neo Platinum 



Intel Pentium 4 540 
MSI 925X Neo Platinum 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 



Processor 
Speed 

3.2GHz 

3.42GHz 



FSB Multiplier Voltage PCMark04 

200MHz 16 1.36V 4863 

214MHz 16 1.36V 5169 


PCMark04 
CPU 

5034 

5278 


PCMark04 
Memory 

5281 

5594 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

2840 

2828 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4452 

4440 


3DMark05 

1453 

1455 


Doom 3 

17.6fps 

17.6fps 



PAT; luckily the 925X didn't inherit any 
cute nicknames from its predecessor. 

Although the 915 chipset supports both 
DDR and DDR2, the 925X only supports 
new DDR2. The new memory standard 
includes smaller transistors that allow the 
memory modules to run at high frequency 
using less power. Our DDR2 memory 
modules run at 533MHz but require just 
1.8V of power compared to the 2.6V used 



RAID array from older IDE hard drives 
via the two yellow IDE connectors in the 
bottom-right corner of the motherboard. 

The Realtek ALC861 provides high- 
definition audio support, including 7.1- 
channel surround sound. The back I/O 
panel includes one coaxial SPDIF out- 
put and one optical SPDIF output for 
connecting the system directly to an exter- 
nal 7.1 surround-sound receiver, or you 



managed a 1453 3DMark05 score, better 
than the 1414 score posted by the ABIT 
AG8, but not quite as good as the 1575 
posted by the Soltek SL-915Pro-FGR. The 
4863 overall PCMark04 score also fell 
between our two previous boards, despite 
the fact our 5034 CPU score and 5281 
Memory scores were the best scores posted 
by any board tested with the P4 540. The 
2840 Graphics score wasn't quite as good 



36 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



as the 3080 score posted by the 
Soltek board, but it was still bet- 
ter than the score posted by the 
ABIT board. The 4452 HDD 
score was just slightly better than 
that of the two previous boards. 

In Doom 3, we set the display 
options to High Quality, 1,280 x 
1,024, and 2X antialiasing. With 
our stock settings we averaged 
17.6fps, which beat our best 
overclocked score thus far. 

After completing our initial 
testing and recording our scores, 
we rebooted the system and 
pressed DELETE to access the 
CMOS Setup Utility. The 925X 
Neo Platinum uses an Award 
BIOS. (At press time no BIOS 
updates were available.) 

The overclocking options 
were located in the Cell Menu 
section and were a bit more lim- 
ited than other boards. The 
High Performance Mode option sets the 
proper memory frequency according to the 
memory's SPD when set to Optimized. By 
default, this option was set to Manual, and 
Adjust DDR Frequency was set to Auto. 
We left both options alone for now. 

The 92 5X Neo Platinum does include 
a dynamic overclocking option. We'll test 
this option at its most extreme setting 
a little later, but for now we left the 
Dynamic Overclocking options set to 
Disabled. We left Auto Detect PCI Clock 
and Spread Spectrum set to Enabled and 
Disabled, respectively, increased the CPU 
Clock from 200MHz to 210MHz, and 
left the CPU Voltage set to By CPU 
Default. We also left the Memory Voltage 
and AGP/PCI Express Voltage set to their 
default values of 1.8V and 1.5 V. 

After rebooting the system, our pro- 
cessor was running at 3.36GHz. We had 
no problem completing a successful 
3DMark05 test. In prior case studies, we 
had noticed that our 3DMark05 scores 
decrease at 210MHz, only to rise again at 
higher frequencies. This pattern continued 
here as our 3DMark05 score fell to 1447. 
We tried increasing the FSB to 220MHz, 
but the system refused to POST. Note that 
the MSI boards don't fall back to the last 




24-pin ATX- 1 
Power Connector 

12V Power Connector 



Southbridge 
(Intel ICH6R) 



PCI-E Gigabit 
Ethernet Controller 



Northbridge 
(Intel 925X) 



High-Definition 
Audio Codec 




successful CMOS settings like previous 
boards. In order to get the system to 
POST, we had to open the case and clear 
the CMOS by setting the proper jumper. 

We played with several settings to try 
and get the board stable. We increased the 
CPU voltage, along with Memory and 
PCI-E voltages, but the system remained 
unstable. Eventually, we decided to scale 
back and tried to get the system running at 
215MHz. Even this appeared to be too 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 


Soltek SL-915Pro-FRG 


Stock Performance 


1575 




Overclocked Performance 


1579 






ABIT AG8 






Stock Performance 


1414 




Overclocked Performance 


1443 






• MSI 925X Neo Platinum 




M 


Stock Performance 


1453 




Overclocked Performance 


1455 







much for this board. We got the 
system to POST at 214MHz 
without increasing any voltages. 
The 3.42GHz processor provid- 
ed a 1455 3DMark05 score, 
which was a mere two points 
higher than our baseline. 

Setting the High Perform- 
ance Mode option to Optim- 
ized allowed us to push the 
board a bit, and we got our 
FSB up to 217MHz using the 
default voltages. Our 3DMark- 
05 score, however, was only 
1406. Considering that, we 
reset High Performance Mode 
to Manual and reset the FSB 
to 214MHz. 

The increase helped our 

PCMark04 score slightly. Our 

overall score increased to 5169, 

thanks to a higher 5278 CPU 

score and 5594 Memory score. 

The Graphics score fell to 

2828, and the HDD score was down 

slightly to 4440. The Doom 3 frame rate 

stayed at 17.6fps. 

We set the Dynamic Overclocking 
option to Commander. This allows the 
processor speed to increase by as much as 
15%, so we weren't too surprised when the 
system froze up in PCMark04 testing. 

Final Word 

The MSI 925X Neo Platinum is, thus 
far, the worst board for overclocking that 
we've reviewed. MSI apparently could not 
find a way around the 10% limit, and the 
board couldn't handle a 217MHz FSB 
without significant performance degrada- 
tion. The fact that this board refused to 
even POST at 215MHz is a sure sign that 
MSI hasn't handled the Intel overclock 
limit well. This isn't surprising; some manu- 
facturers claim the more aggressive memory 
timings used by the 925X make it difficult 
to bypass Intel's limit. We were annoyed 
that we had to open our case to reset the 
BIOS when our settings didn't work. Given 
that the ABIT AG8 managed to get the 
P4 540 up to 3.92GHz, it's unlikely the 
processor is holding us back here. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 37 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel 

Pentium 4 550 

& Foxconn 

915M03-G-8EKRS2 



In two of our first three case studies, 
the 10% overclock limit in some 
915 and 925X motherboard reared 
its ugly head. In one case we couldn't 
even get the system to POST at 215MHz. 
Still, we managed to push our Pentium 4 
540 from 3.2GHz to 3.92GHz using 
stock cooling on the ABIT AG8. 

Now it's time to retire the P4 540 and 
move on to Intel's P4 550. As you might 
guess, the P4 550 is very similar to the P4 
540, but it runs at 3.4GHz rather than at 
3.2GHz. Both processors utilize the 
Prescott core, which is fabricated using 
Intel's 90nm technology, and both 
processors include 1MB of L2 cache. 

We'll start our P4 550 testing with a 
915G motherboard, this time from 
Foxconn. The Foxconn 915M03-G- 
8EKRS2 is a microATX board with one 



our other RAID enabled boards, the 
915M03-G-8EKRS2 supports Intel's new 
Matrix storage technology, which pro- 
vides both performance and stability 
using two hard drives divided into two 
partitions each. The ICH6R can support 
a total of eight USB 2.0 ports, four of 
which are located on the back I/O panel 
along with a single Fire Wire 400 port. 

The 915G includes Intel's Graphics 
Media Accelerator 900, which replaces the 
Extreme Graphics 2 that was integrated in 
the older 865G. While the GMA 900 is 
better than the Extreme Graphics 2, it's 
still pretty poor compared to our moder- 
ately priced ASUS Extreme AX600 XT 
graphics card, so we'll stick with that. 

The 915M03-G-8EKRS2 does include 
integrated high-definition audio and 
Gigabit Ethernet, but there's little space 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 



Processor 


3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 550 


Motherboard 


Foxconn 915M03-G-8EKRS2 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix AwardBIOS 


BIOS Version 


1.2 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.1.1002 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



PCMark04 Memory scores, we don't see 
that big of a difference in Doom 3 or 
3DMark05 scores. The motherboard sup- 
ports a total of 4GB of DDR2-400/533. 

Performance 

We started off, as always, by recording 
some baseline scores with default settings. 
The 3.4GHz P4 550 generated a nice 
bump in PCMark04 scores; we managed 
a 5052 overall score, based largely on a 
5226 CPU score and a 5279 Memory 
score. Our Graphics score came in at 
2784 and our HDD score was 4465. The 



Intel Pentium 4 550 
Foxconn 915M03-G-8EKRS2 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 



Processor 
Speed 

3.4GHz 

3.82GHz 



FSB 


Multiplier 


200MHz 


17X 


225MHz 


17X 



PCMark04 


PCMark04 PCMark04 
Memory Graphics 

5279 2784 

5260 2820 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4465 

4464 




Voltage PCMark04 CPU 

1.3875 V 5052 5226 

1.4875V 4451 4007 


3DMark05 Doom 3 

1440 13.8fps 

1474 13.9fps 



PCI-E xl6 slot, two PCI-E xl slots, and 
one PCI slot. 

Motherboard 

Foxconn's compact motherboard mea- 
sures 9.6 inches x 9.6 inches and includes 
an Intel ICH6R on the southbridge along 
with Intel's 915G northbridge. The 
ICH6R provides SATA RAID using four 
SATA channels that enable complex 
RAID arrays such as RAID 0+1. As with 



to include any extras. Without a separate 
IDE RAID controller, the ICH6R will 
only support a total of two IDE drives via 
a single IDE channel. 

Unlike the last 915G board we ex- 
amined (the Soltek 915Pro-FGR), the 
915M03-G-8EKRS2 doesn't include 
legacy support for older DDR memory 
modules. Instead, Foxconn opted to sup- 
port only DDR2 memory on this board. 
While DDR2 does seem to increase our 



1440 3DMark05 score was lower than 
the last 915G board we tested (with a 
slower processor, no less). Our average 
Doom 3 frame rates at High Quality, 
1,280 x 1,024, and 2X antialiasing, was 
13.8fps. This was lower than our two pre- 
vious case studies but almost identical to 
the Soltek 915G, the board we reviewed 
in our first Intel case study. 

After recording the scores, we entered 
the system's CMOS Setup Utility by 



38 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



pressing DELETE while the 
board was completing its 
POST. The board included a 
Phoenix AwardBIOS, version 
1.2. 

Overclocking options are in 
the Frequency/Voltage Control 
section. Looking at this mother- 
board's options, we were fairly 
hopeful for a decent overclock. 
To begin, we set the System 
Memory Frequency to 533MHz 
to prevent the system from 
underclocking the memory 
when we cranked up the FSB. 
We left the Auto Detect PCI 
Clk and Spread Spectrum op- 
tions at their default values of 
Enabled and Disabled, respec- 
tively. Next, we nudged the 
CPU Clock from 200MHz to 
210MHz. We left the PCI 
Express Clock set to 100MHz ^^^^ 
and the PCI Bus Clock set to 
33.33MHz. We had the option to 
increase the CPU, memory, and system 
core voltages, but we left them at their 
default values for now. 

We easily booted Windows and com- 
pleted 3DMark05 with a 1444 score. 
(Incidentally, this is the first time our 
3DMark05 score increased from 200- 
MHz to 210MHz.) We increased the FSB 
to 220MHz without adjusting any other 
settings and the system refused to boot. 
The Foxconn board eventually reset itself 
and booted with default settings. This 
time we increased the PCI Express Clock 
from 100MHz to 114MHz. This time 
the system had a successful POST but 
wouldn't load Windows. 

We selected CPU Voltage Regulator 
and increased the CPU voltage to 
+0. 0250V and left the Memory Voltage 
and System Core Voltage set to Default. 
The system didn't even complete its 
POST, so we increased the CPU voltage 
to +0. 0500V and the memory and system 
core voltages to +0.03V. These changes 
let us boot Windows, but 3DMark05 
crashed. We increased the processor's core 
voltage until we finally got the system sta- 
ble at 3.72GHz with a +0.0750V CPU 
voltage increase and a +0.06V increase to 




24-pin ATX 
Power Connector 



12V Power Connector 



Northbridge 
(Intel 91 5C) 



High Definition 
Audio Codec 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




the memory and system core voltages. 
The resulting 1475 3DMark05 score was 
a significant improvement. 

The system proved impossible to stabi- 
lize at 230MHz. Although the board 
POSTed, it rebooted while loading 
Windows. We increased memory and 
system core voltages to +0.1 0V and the 
CPU voltage to +0.1 875V (the maximum 
allowed). We even tried resetting Memory 
Frequency to 400MHz to alleviate the 
effects of the overclock on our memory, 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 


• Foxconn 91 5M03-G-8EKRS2 


Stock Performance 


1440 




Overclocked Performance 


1474 






MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum 


Stock Performance 


1637 




Overclocked Performance 


1591 






GIGABYTE GA-8ANXP-D 




■ 


Stock Performance 


1564 




Overclocked Performance 


1606 







but had to face reality and dial 
down our FSB to 225MHz. 

At 225MHz, the processor 
was running at 3.82GHz. We 
had to increase the CPU voltage 
to +0.1000V and the memory 
and system core voltages to 
+0.10V in order to stabilize the 
system. At this speed we man- 
aged a 1474 3DMark05 score, 
34 points higher than our stock 
score. We were able to get the 
system stable at 227MHz, but 
our 3DMark05 score suffered 
at this speed, falling to 1428. 
Increasing the CPU voltage 
from +0. 1250V to +0. 1500V 
bumped the score to 1442, but 
we were still significantly below 
our score at 225MHz. We were 
only giving up 2MHz, so we 
returned to 225MHz to record 
^^^^ our scores. 

Despite the increase in our 
3DMark05 score, PCMark04 scores suf- 
fered at 225MHz. Our overall score 
dropped to 4451 and our CPU score fell 
to 4007. The Memory score was down 
slightly to 5260 after reaching an all- 
time high of 5724 at 220MHz. The 
Graphics score increased slightly to 2820 
and the HDD score was largely un- 
changed at 4464. Doom 3 showed a 
slight improvement, with an average 
frame rate of 13.9fps. 

Final Word 

After our experiences with the Soltek 
SL-915Pro-FGR and MSI 925X Neo 
Platinum boards, we expected to hit a 
ceiling near 215MHz on the 915M03-G- 
8EKRS2. We were surprised we could get 
the board up to 225MHz. This is just 
slightly above 10%, but previous mother- 
boards failed to POST when we hit the 
10% mark. The fact that the 915M03-G- 
8EKRS2 was able to complete its POST 
at 230MHz may suggest the limitations 
were inherent in the processor or some 
other aspect of this board. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 39 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel 

Pentium 4 550 

& MSI 915P Neo2 

Platinum 



In our last case study, we increased 
the Pentium 4 550's clock speed 
from its 3.4GHz default speed to 
3.82GHz. Considering that this speed 
was well short of the 3.92GHz maximum 
speed achieved with the Pentium 4 540 
(which has a default clock speed of 
3.2GHz), we felt the Foxconn mother- 
board was likely the biggest barrier to fur- 
ther speed increases. In this case study, 
we'll see how far the MSI 915P Neo2 
Platinum board can push the P4 550. 

Initially, we weren't sure what to 
expect from the 915P Neo2 Platinum. 
The previous 915P board we reviewed 
provided the best Pentium 4 540 over- 
clock, giving us reason to hope for the 
same here. However, we were less than 



include any DDR memory slots, opting 
instead to support a full 4GB of DDR2- 
533 memory. The new northbridge also 
supports PCI-E, with a PCI-E xl6 slot 
used for new PCI-E video cards, two PCI- 
E xl slots, and 3 PCI slots. 

MSI pairs the 915P with Intel's 
ICH6R. The ICH6R supports RAID on 
four SATA drives rather than the two 
drives supported by the older ICH5R. 
This extended SATA RAID support lets 
you take advantage of more complex 
RAID arrays such RAID 0+1, which pro- 
vides the performance benefits of strip- 
ping (RAID 0) with the redundancy of 
mirroring (RAID 1). The ICH6R also 
includes Intel's Matrix storage technolo- 
gy, which lets you use two partitioned 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 550 


Motherboard 


MSI 915PNeo2 Platinum 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


AMI BIOS 


BIOS Version 


1.5 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.1.1002 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



surround sound and supports two digital 
audio outputs (one optical and one coaxi- 
al). A Broadcom DBM5751 provides 
Gigabit Ethernet connectivity using the 
PCI-E bus, thus bypassing the bottleneck 
posed by the older and slower PCI bus. 

The motherboard includes four USB 
2.0 ports on the rear I/O panel, headers 
for an additional four USB 2.0 ports, 
and a single FireWire port on the rear 
I/O panel. 



Intel Pentium 4 550 


















MSI Neo2 Platinum 


















Processor 


Multiplier 




PCMark04 


PCMark04 
CPU 


PCMark04 
Memory 


PCMark04 
Graphics 


PCMark04 
HDD 


3DMark05 Doom 3 


Speed FSB 


Voltage 


Stock 3.4GHz 200MHz 
Performance 


17X 


1.3875V 


5338 


5195 


5357 


3163 


4454 


1637 17.9fps 


Overclocked 4.17GHz 245MHz 
Performance 


17X 


1.4625V 


3845 


3849 


5138 


3081 


4422 


1591 17.0fps 



impressed with our last MSI mother- 
board, which only allowed us to push the 
P4 540 from 3.2GHz to 3.42GHz. 

Motherboard 

The 915P Neo2 Platinum is the second 
915P chipset we'll examine. The ABIT 
AG8, which also uses Intel's 915P chipset, 
provided us with the highest P4 540 over- 
clock. The 915P is similar to the 915G, 
but it lacks the integrated video included 
with the 915G. Both chipsets include sup- 
port for DDR and newer DDR2. The 
915P Neo2 Platinum, however, doesn't 



hard drives to simulate a RAID 0+1 array 
(which normally requires four drives). 

The ICH6R, however, isn't big on 
IDE drives. It includes just one IDE 
channel that supports two drives. MSI 
added a VIA 6410 IDE RAID controller 
that provides two additional IDE chan- 
nels for hard drives. Using these connec- 
tors, you can construct an IDE RAID 0, 
RAID 1, or RAID 0+1 array. 

As with most 915-based motherboards, 
MSI includes a new audio codec based 
on Intel's High Definition Audio. The 
Realtek ALC861 provides 7.1-channel 



Performance 

Although we were less than impressed 
with the MSI 925X Neo Platinum, we 
were anxious to see what the 915P Neo2 
Platinum had to offer. Before we cranked 
up the speed, we recorded baseline scores. 

The 915P Neo2 Platinum posted some 
of the best scores of any board tested with 
the P4 550. Specifically, our 5338 overall 
PCMark04 score, our 1637 3DMark05 
score, and our 17.9fps Doom 3 averages 
were better than any other board we test- 
ed with the P4 550. Our PCMark04 



40 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



components scores consisted 
of a 5195 CPU score, a 5357 
Memory score, 3163 Graphics, 
and a 4454 HDD score. All but 
the HDD score were higher 
than any other board we tested 
with the same processor. 

To increase our clock speed, 
we rebooted the system and 
pressed DELETE during the 
motherboard's POST to enter 
the CMOS Setup Utility. Be- 
fore we ran our initial tests, we 
upgraded the BIOS to version 
1.5. Overclocking options are in 
the Cell Menu section. 

Like the 925X Neo Plat- 
inum, the 915P Neo2 Platinum 
includes a High Performance 
Mode option. We left this op- 
tion set to its default value of 
Optimized, and we made sure 
Dynamic Overclocking was 
set to Disabled. We increased 
Adjust CPU FSB Frequency 
from 200MHz to 210MHz and 
made sure we set Adjust DDR ^^^^ 
Memory Frequency to 533MHz 
to prevent the system from underclocking 
our memory. The increase in our FSB 
speed increased our memory speed to 
559MHz. We kept our PCI frequency set 
at 33.3MHz and our PCI-E frequency set 
at 100MHz. We left the CPU voltage at 
1.3875V, the DDR voltage at 1.85V, and 
the northbridge voltage at 1.55V. Upon 
exiting the setup utility, the P4 550 was 
running at 3.57GHz. Our 3DMark05 
score increased one point to 1638. It 
would be the last increase we'd see. 

Increasing the FSB to 220MHz result- 
ed in a 3.74GHz processor. The increase 
caused the default PCI frequency to jump 
to 36.6MHz. We initially rolled this back 
to 33.3MHz and that was most likely a 
mistake, as the system refused to POST. 
The 915P Neo2 Platinum doesn't restore 
the last working CMOS configuration, so 
we had to clear the CMOS manually 
using a jumper on the motherboard. 
Resetting the PCI frequency to 36.6MHz 
alone didn't solve the problem, but 
increasing the PCI-E frequency from 
100MHz to 112MHz and increasing 




24-pin ATX 
Power Connector 



12V Power Connector 



Northbridge 
(Intel 91 5P) 



Southbridge 
(Intel ICH6R) 



High Definition 
Audio Codec 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 



VIA 6410 IDE 
RAID Controller 




the CPU and northbridge voltages to 
1.4250V and 1.70V stabilized the system, 
but our 3DMark05 score fell to 1583. 

We ran into more problems at 
225MHz. We applied more voltage to the 
CPU (1.4500V) and increased the mem- 
ory voltage from 1.85V to 1.95V. This 
seemed to stabilize the system and gener- 
ated a 1588 3DMark05 score. Although 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 


Foxconn 915M03-G-8EKRS2 






Stock Performance 


1440 




Overclocked Performance 


1474 






• MSI 915PNeo2 Platinum 


Stock Performance 


1637 




Overclocked Performance 


1591 






GIGABYTE GA-8ANXP-D 




■ 


Stock Performance 


1564 




Overclocked Performance 


1606 







our score had dropped from its 
default, it was still significantly 
higher than the 1474 posted by 
the Foxconn board running 
witha225MHzFSB. 

We easily pushed the 915P 
Neo2 Platinum to 230MHz 
without making more adjust- 
ments. With the processor run- 
ning at 3.91GHz, we managed 
a 1587 3DMark05 score. 

We had more problems at 
235MHz. At one point we 
increased the processor voltage 
to 1.5000V, but the system 
shut down due to overheating. 
We backed off the CPU volt- 
age, finally settling at 1.4625V. 
We decreased the PCI frequen- 
cy from 39.1MHz to 36.3MHz 
and increased the PCI-E fre- 
quency to 116MHz. We also 
increased memory voltage from 
1.95V to 2.10V. The north- 
bridge voltage was already 
maxed out at 1 .70V. These set- 
^^^^ tings stabilized the system 
enough to yield a 1597 3D- 
Mark05 score with a 4GHz processor. 

We were able to push the FSB up to 
240MHz without any problem. This 
pushed the processor to 4.08GHz and 
provided us with a 1590 3Dmark05 
score. Increasing the FSB to 245MHz 
increased the PCI frequency to 40MHz 
and the processor speed to 4.17GHz. The 
result was a 1591 3DMark05 score. 

We were unable to get the system sta- 
ble at faster speeds. At 245MHz, our 
overall PCMark04 score fell to 3845 and 
Doom 3 frame rates fell to 17.0fps. 

Final Word 

We were pleased by how far we were 
able to push the P4 550 on this board, 
but we were unable to improve our per- 
formance scores. After a small one-point 
increase at 210MHz, 3DMark05 scores 
dropped dramatically. Scores slowly 
increased as we pushed clock speeds high- 
er, but they never approached our original 
1637 score. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 41 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel Pentium 4 550 
& Gigabyte GA-8ANXP-D 



MSI's 915P Neo2 Platinum gave 
us a great indication of the 
kind of speeds of which the P4 
550 is capable. Unfortunately, our bench- 
mark scores dropped dramatically between 
210MHz and 220MHz. Scores gradually 
increased as we cranked up the clock speed 
but still finished lower than our default 
scores. GIGABYTE'S GA-8ANXP-D gives 
us one last opportunity to post scores con- 
sistent with our higher clock speed. 

The GA-8ANXP-D is the second 
925X motherboard we'll examine. The 
last 925X board, the MSI 925X Neo 
Platinum, didn't really stand out, as we 
were only able to increase our FSB speed 
14MHz. We're anxious to see whether 
GA-8ANXP-D has the same sort of limi- 
tations as the MSI 925X Neo Platinum. 

Motherboard 

The 92 5X is supposed to be a cut above 
the Intel 915 chipsets. The high-end 925X 



0+1 style array across just two hard drives 
rather than four. 

GIGABYTE also added a Silicon Image 
Sil31l4 SATA RAID controller to support 
four additional SATA drives. Altogether, 
this board can support two SATA RAID 
arrays consisting of four drives each. The 
ICH6R only supports a single IDE chan- 
nel, so you're limited to just two IDE 
drives. Unlike other boards we've exam- 
ined, the GA-8ANXP-D doesn't include 
an additional IDE RAID controller. 

GIGABYTE includes four USB 2.0 
ports on the rear I/O panel, and headers 
on the motherboard support an addi- 
tional four USB 2.0 ports. The board 
also supports three FireWire 800 ports. 
Thanks to the Realtek ALC880 high 
definition audio codec, you'll also find 
SPDIF inputs and outputs. The board 
includes two Gigabit Ethernet adapters. 
The Marvell 8001 Gigabit Ethernet con- 
troller uses the PCI bus, which limits the 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 550 


Motherboard 


GIGABYTE GA-8ANXP-D 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Award BIOS 


BIOS Version 


F5 


Chipset Driver 


6.2.1.1001 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



Performance 

Originally, our GA-8ANXP-D used 
revision F2 of its Award BIOS. We 
updated the BIOS to revision F5 before 
we started our testing. The upgrade, how- 
ever, caused a small problem by adding a 
new entry to the MIT (MB Intelligent 
Tweaker) portion of the BIOS, which 
contains all the relevant overclocking 



Intel Pentium 4 550 
GIGABYTE GA-8ANXP-D 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 



Processor 
Speed 

3.4GHz 

4.17GHz 



PCMark04 


PCMark04 
Memory 

5247 

2692 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

3043 

3060 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4453 

4427 






FSB 

200MHz 

245MHz 


Multiplier 

17X 

17X 


Voltage PCMark04 

1.3875V 4846 

1.4625V 2357 


CPU 

4551 

2382 


3DMark05 

1564 

1607 


Doom 3 

17.2fps 

13.4fps 



only supports DDR2 memory and, un- 
like the 915 chipsets, can support ECC 
memory, making it a better choice for 
workstations and servers. Intel also 
includes a number of memory improve- 
ments in the 925X that should provide a 
slight performance boost. 

GIGABYTE includes Intel's ICH6R on 
the southbridge. The ICH6R is a popular 
choice on these high-end boards because it 
provides SATA RAID support. With the 
ability to support four SATA hard drives, 
the ICH6R can support RAID 0, RAID 
1, or RAID 0+1. Intel's Matrix technology 
also makes it possible to configure a RAID 



actual throughput. The Broadcom con- 
troller, however, uses the faster PCI-E 
bus, providing greater throughput. 

The GA-8ANXP-D has one feature 
not often seen on motherboards: The U- 
Plus DPS (Dual Power System) is a small 
card that slides into a vertical slot next to 
the processor. The DPS provides cleaner 
power to the processor and uses a copper 
heat pipe for cooling to eliminate the 
need for an additional noisy fan. An 
included fan clips to the passive north- 
bridge heatsink. Because we're planning 
to overclock, we decided to attach the fan 
for additional cooling. 



options. The newly added CAM (CPU 
Adjustable Multiplier) option was set to 
Low by default. This caused our processor 
to run with a 14X multiplier instead of a 
17X multiplier, dropping our clock speed 
to 2.8GHz. We set the option to High so 
we could get the processor running at the 
proper default frequency. 

Once we had the processor running 
at 3.4GHz, we ran our normal battery of 
tests. We were actually pretty disappoint- 
ed with our baseline performance scores. 
Despite the supposed memory tweaks 
incorporated into the 925X chipset, none 
of our initial scores managed to beat the 



42 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



scores posted by the 915P Neo2 
Platinum in our previous case 
study. Our 4846 PCMark04 
score and 4551 CPU score were 
much lower than the scores in 
our last case study. Even the 
5247 Memory score was slightly 
below the 5357 score posted by 
the 915P Neo2 Platinum. The 
3043 Graphics score and 4453 
HDD score were more competi- 
tive. The 1564 PCMark05 score 
was 73 points below the score 
posted in our last case study. At 
least our Doom 3 score was 
more competitive. We managed 
17.2fps in High Quality at 
1,280 x 1,024 with 2X antialias- 
ing. Still, the 915P Neo2 Plat- 
inum managed 0.7fps more. 

The GA-8ANXP-D did most 
of the work when overclock- 
ing. We started by accessing 
the MIT section of the CMOS 
Setup Utility. The CIA 2 op- 
tion lets you dynamically over- 
clock the motherboard; we left 
this setting disabled to get 
accurate scores. We increased 
the CPU Host Frequency from 
200MHz to 210MHz after 
enabling CPU Host Clock Control. We 
left the PCI-E Frequency set to Auto and 
set Memory Frequency For to 2.66 in 
order to ensure the system didn't under- 
clock our memory. We left memory, PCI- 
E, and CPU voltages set to Normal. 

At 3.58GHz, we managed a 1570 in 
3DMark05. We increased the FSB to 
220MHz, which gave us a 3.72GHz 
processor and a 1593 3DMark05 score. 
Once again, we increased the FSB 
10MHz to 230MHz. At 3.91GHz, we 
managed a 1594 3DMark05 score. We 
pushed the FSB up to 240MHz with no 
problems, which pushed the processor 
over the 4GHz mark, yielding a 1605 
3DMark05 score. 

The problems began at 250MHz. 
Although the board completed its POST, it 
would reboot while loading Windows. We 
tried increasing the processor, PCI-E, and 
memory voltages without much success. 
With the processor voltage cranked up to 




24-pin ATX- 



Power Connector 
12V Power Connector 
Northbridge (Intel 925X) 
Gigabit Ethernet Controller 
Gigabit Ethernet Controller — 
High Definition Audio Codec- 
BIOS 



Southbridge (Intel ICH6R) 

Silicon Image SATA RAID Controller- 




1.5000V, we were finally able to load 
Windows, but the system soon shut down 
because of an overheated processor. 

After letting the processor cool for 
several minutes, we brought our speed 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 


Foxconn 915M03-G-8EKRS2 


Stock Performance 


1440 




Overclocked Performance 


1474 






MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum 


Stock Performance 


1637 




Overclocked Performance 


1591 






• GIGABYTE GA-8ANXP-D 




H 


Stock Performance 


1564 




Overclocked Performance 


1606 







down to 245MHz, giving us a 
4.14GHz processor clock speed. 
At this speed we managed a 
1607 3DMark05 score. We 
were able to stabilize the system 
at 247MHz, but our overall 
3DMark05 score fell to 1606. 
At 249MHz, we were able to 
get our score up to 1607 but 
couldn't complete PCMark04. 

At 245MHz, our PCMark04 
scores took a beating. Our over- 
all score plummeted to 2357, 
due to drops in our CPU and 
Memory scores (2382 and 
2692, respectively). The 3060 
Graphics score was better than 
our default score, but not 
enough to make up for the 
sharp declines in CPU and 
Memory scores. The 4427 
HDD score was also low, and 
Doom 3 scores fell, dropping 
3.8fps off our default score. 

Final Word 

We were impressed with how 
far we could push this CPU on 
the GIGABYTE GA-8ANXP-D. 
We increased the 3.6GHz P4's 
clock speed roughly 600MHz to 
4.2GHz, but we were disappointed to see 
so many benchmark scores drop so quickly. 
Unlike in our last case study, our 3D- 
Mark05 scores increased regularly, but our 
PCMark04 scores plummeted as we 
cranked up the speed. The MSI 925X Neo 
Platinum only allowed us to increase the 
FSB by 14MHz, but PCMark04 scores 
were significantly better on the MSI board 
despite the slower P4 540 we were using. 
At 214MHz, the P4 540 maxed out at 
just 3.42GHz, just 20MHz faster than 
the initial clock speed of the P4 550. 
Nonetheless, we managed a 5169 over- 
clocked PCMark04 score. That's almost 
twice the score posted by the P4 550 run- 
ning at 4.14GHz. Lower Doom 3 frame 
rates make it even harder to ignore the low 
PCMark04 scores. In this case, we're not 
sure bragging about a 4GHz processor is 
worth the performance hit. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 43 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel Pentium 4 560 

& MSI 915G 

Combo-FR 



Up to this point, Intel's older 
Northwood core has been able 
to keep up with the newer 
Prescott core in terms of clock speed. The 
3.6GHz Pentium 4 560 marks the first 
Prescott processor we've examined that 
has a higher default clock speed than any 
Northwood processor. Does the P4 560 
have the same kind of overhead as the P4 
540 and P4 550? 

We'll start by pairing the P4 560 with 
an Intel 915G chipset. In this case we'll 
use the MSI 915G Combo-FR mother- 
board. So far, 915G-based boards haven't 
overclocked well, so it'll be interesting to 
see if the 915G Combo-FR can outper- 
form the other 915G motherboards 
we've examined. 

Motherboard 

The 915G uses Intel's integrated 
Graphics Media Accelerator 900. Inte- 
grated graphics means there's no reason to 
spend money on a new PCI-E xl6 graph- 
ics card (which isn't much faster than an 
8X AGP card anyway). Nonetheless, we'll 
stick with our ASUS RADEON 600XT 
video card to keep our testing configura- 
tion consistent. 

Aside from the integrated graphics, 
the 915G is similar to the 915P. Both 
chipsets support DDR and DDR2. In 
fact, the 915G Combo-FR supports both 
memory standards with two DDR2 slots 



and two DDR slots. While supporting 
both standards is nice, you cannot mix 
memory types, so this board only sup- 
ports half of the 4GB total supported by 
most other boards. We had two sticks of 
DDR2-533 memory handy, so we opted 
for DDR2 over DDR. 

The 915G Combo-FR is one of the 
few motherboards we'll examine that 
doesn't support SATA RAID. The moth- 
erboard uses Intel's ICH6 on the south- 
bridge, which supports four SATA hard 
drives (twice as many as the older ICH5). 
The ICH6 also provides support for up 
to eight USB 2.0 ports. Four ports are 
located on the rear I/O panel. Two moth- 
erboard headers let you connect four 
additional USB ports. 

The ICH6, however, only supports 
one IDE channel, limiting you to just two 
IDE drives. MSI made a curious decision 
to place the lone ICH6 IDE connector 
parallel to the PCI-E xl6 video slot so 
longer video cards interfere with this slot. 
Our ASUS card doesn't cause a problem, 
but we have a Chaintech GeForce PCX 
5900 that does block the connector. 

You can connect up to four additional 
IDE hard drives using the two IDE con- 
nectors for the VIA IDE RAID con- 
troller. The controller supports RAID 0, 
RAID 1, and RAID 0+1. 

The ICH6 also includes a high-de- 
finition audio codec. In addition to the 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.6GHz Pentium 4 560 


Motherboard 


MSI 91 5G Combo-FR 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


AMI 


BIOS Version 


v1.5 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.1.1002 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



7.1 -channel surround sound, the high- 
definition audio codec also supports two 
SPDIF digital audio outputs (one coaxial 
and one optical). You'll also find integrat- 
ed Gigabit Ethernet. 

Performance 

Before we began our testing, we 
upgraded our system's BIOS from vl.2 
to vl.5. The MSI Live Update Utility 
didn't let us update the BIOS from a file 
within Windows and we didn't have our 
test machine connected to the Internet, 
so we had to create a bootable floppy 
disk and use a command-line utility to 
flash the BIOS. 

After completing the upgrade, we ran 
our regular benchmarks at default clock 
speeds and recorded our base results. 
Despite the faster processor, results were 
somewhat mixed. The 1577 3DMark05 
score was well below the 1637 score post- 
ed by the MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum with 
a 3.4GHz P4 550. PCMark04 scores were 
better. The 5496 overall PCMark04 score 
and 5502 CPU score were the best scores 



Intel Pentium 4 560 




















& MSI 915G Combo-FR 




















Stock 
Performance 


Processor 

Speed FSB 

3.6GHz 200MHz 


Multiplier 

18 


Voltage 

1.3875V 


PCMark04 

5496 


PCMark04 
CPU 

5502 


PCMark04 
Memory 

5388 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

3043 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4452 


3DMark05 

1577 


Doom 3 

14fps 


Overclocked 
Performance 


3.96GHz 220MHz 


18 


1.4125V 


5305 


4946 


5799 


3055 


4464 


1587 


14fps 



44 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



posted in our reviews for this 
issue so far. The 5388 Memory 
score was also slightly better 
than the 5357 score posted by 
the Neo2 Platinum. The 3043 
Graphics score was just slightly 
below the Neo2 Platinum's 
3163. The 4452 HDD score 
was right about average. 

We also tested the system 
using the Doom 3 timedemo. 
We set the game resolution to 
1,280 x 1,024 at High Quality 
and set antialiasing to 2X. We 
managed an average frame rate 
of I4fps, which was slightly bet- 
ter than the 13.8fps and 13.9fps 
scored by our other 915G 
motherboards but not nearly as 
good as some of the scores from 
our 915P and 925X boards. 

After completing our tests, we 
rebooted the system and pressed 
DELETE to enter the system 
BIOS. Overclocking options were 
located in the Cell_Menu section. We start- 
ed by only changing options required to 
overclock the system. Thus, we left High 
Performance Mode set to Manual, Adjust 
DDR Memory Frequency set to Auto, and 
left our CPU, memory, and northbridge 
voltages set to their default values (1.3875V, 
1.8V, and 1.55V, respectively). We high- 
lighted Adjust CPU FSB Frequency and 
entered 210 for the new value. This in- 
creased our memory and PCI frequencies. 

After saving our settings and rebooting, 
the FSB was now operating at 210MHz 
and our processor was humming along 
at 3.78GHz. We managed a 1591 3D- 
Mark05 score, a significant gain over our 
stock score. 

Pushing the FSB up to 220MHz gave 
us a 3.96GHz processor but caused some 
problems. Windows refused to load and 
complained it was missing a system file. 
Rather than reinstalling Windows, we 
tried to confirm that the file was indeed 
missing or corrupted. Sure enough, re- 
storing the system to its default settings 
solved any problem. We returned to the 
CMOS Setup Utility and tried increasing 
the CPU voltage to 1.4125V. This time 
Windows simply didn't load. Increasing 




24-Pin ATX 

Power Connector 

12V Power Connecto'r 
Northbridge (Intel 91 5G) 
Gigabit Ethernet Controller 



Southbridge 
(Intel ICH6) 

High-Definition 
Audio Codec 



VIA IDE RAID 
Controller 




the northbridge voltage to 1.65V caused 
the error message to reappear. It was only 
after increasing our memory voltage to 
1.9V that we got Windows to load prop- 
erly. We managed a 1587 in 3DMark05. 
Although this was lower than the 1591 
we received at 210MHz, it was still better 
than the default score. 

Increasing the FSB to 230MHz caused 
the system to reboot before it finished 
loading Windows, so we began incremen- 
tally increasing the CPU voltage. As we 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



• MSI915GCombo-FR 


Stock Performance 


1577 


Overclocked Performance 


1587 




ASUS P5GD2 Deluxe 


Stock Performance 


1655 


Overclocked Performance 


1587 




ABIT AA8 DuraMAX 


Stock Performance 


1446 


Overclocked Performance 


1473 



increased our voltages, the 
CMOS Setup Utility changed the 
text color from white to yellow 
and finally to red. We pushed the 
CPU voltage into the red at 
1.475V and both our memory 
and northbridge voltages were in 
the yellow at 2.1V and 1.9V, 
respectively. The system loaded 
Windows just fine, but it shut 
down shortly after booting. 

We had to drop all the way 
down to 221MHz before we 
were able to get the system stable 
using a 1.425V CPU voltage. 
Even at this voltage, however, 
the system shut down during the 
3DMark05 CPU test. 

We returned to our 220MHz 
FSB speed even though it pained 
us to be so close to the 4GHz 
mark. We've noticed that the P4 
550 seems to post lower scores as 
speeds increase, and we saw a 
similar pattern with the P4 560. 
Our initial 3DMark05 score showed a 
decent gain, but at 200MHz we showed a 
slight loss. Still, the 1587 3DMark05 
score was better than our 1577 stock 
score. Memory, Graphics, and HDD 
scores all increased in PCMark04 to 
5799, 3055, and 4464, respectively. Our 
CPU score, however, fell significantly to 
4946, dropping our overall PCMark04 
score to 5305. But Doom 3 frame rates 
remained the same. 

Final Word 

Although initial scores were decent, the 
MSI 915G Combo-FR doesn't appear to 
be a very solid overclocker. As you'll see in 
the next two case studies, the P4 560 may 
not have as much headroom as the P4 
550, but there's no reason it shouldn't be 
stable above 4GHz. The Intel overclock 
lock is supposed to kick in when you 
increase clock speeds by 10%. Although 
220MHz is right at the 10% mark, the 
fact that the system will POST and even 
load Windows at higher clock speeds sug- 
gests the problem may be simple stability 
and not Intel's overclocking limit. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 45 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel Pentium 4 560 

& ASUS P5GD2 

Deluxe 



Some of the best ovetclocking tesults 
we've received have come from 
Intel's 915P chipset. ASUS is tradi- 
tionally well regarded among overclockers 
and it's rumored to have done an excellent 
job working around Intel's overclocking 
limitations. The ASUS 91 5P P5GD2 De- 
luxe, then, just may be our best chance to 
see what the P4 560 can do. 

In our last case study, we managed to 
increase the FSB on our 915G board just 
10% to 220MHz. A modest drop in our 
performance scores accompanied the 
modest increase in our clock speeds — a 
trend we've observed since we broke the 
4GHz barrier with the P4 550. We'll see 
if we can reverse the trend with our 915P 
ASUS board. 

Motherboard 

The P5GD2 Deluxe has all of the fea- 
tures you'd expect from a high-end 915P 
motherboard, along with a few extras. The 
motherboard provides plenty of connec- 
tivity and storage options. In fact, if you 
don't need an internal optical drive, you 
can connect 14 hard drives to this board. 

Intel's ICH6R is a popular choice on 
high-end 915 and 92 5X motherboards and 
supports up to four SATA drives. Unlike 
the ICH6, the ICH6R provides SATA 
RAID. Because the ICH6R can support 
four drives, it can support more complicat- 
ed RAID arrays such as RAID 0+1, which 



combines the performance benefits of 
RAID with the redundancy of RAID 1 . 
The ICH6R also supports Intel's new 
Matrix storage technology, which lets you 
partition two hard drives to create a RAID 
0+1 style array using just two drives. 

The Silicon Image SATA RAID con- 
troller doesn't support Intel's Matrix tech- 
nology, but because it supports four 
SATA drives, you can create a RAID 0+1 
style array. The ITE IDE RAID con- 
troller provides two IDE channels, allow- 
ing it to support four drives. Again, RAID 
0+1 configurations are possible. The 
ICH6R only supports a single IDE chan- 
nel, and it doesn't support IDE RAID. 

Technically, the 915P can support both 
DDR and DDR2. Many motherboards 
support both memory standards, but doing 
so halves the total amount of memory the 
board can support. ASUS decided not to 
include any DDR memory slots on the 
P5GD2. As a result, the board supports a 
full range of 4GB of DDR2 memory. 

The integrated Marvell Gigabit Ethernet 
controller uses the PCI-E bus rather than 
the older and slower PCI bus. This means 
you should see increased throughput on 
Gigabit Ethernet networks as the PCI bus 
won't cause a bottleneck. The C-Media 
High Definition Audio codec provides 7.1 
channels of surround sound and two 
SPDIF outputs (one coaxial and one opti- 
cal). The P5GD2 also includes support for 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.6GHz Pentium 4 560 


Motherboard 


ASUS P5GD2 Deluxe 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


AMI 


BIOS Version 


v1007 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.1.1002 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Flopy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



two Fire Wire 400 ports (one is on the back 
I/O panel and the other is supported via an 
onboard motherboard header). 

The P5GD2 includes integrated 
802.1 lg, which runs at a speedy 54Mbps 
when used in conjunction with other 
802.1 lg components, but it's backward- 
compatible with older and slower 802.11b 
networks. An included antenna screws 
onto the back I/O panel to provide 
increased reception. 

It's important to note that there's also a 
P5GD2 Premium version. The Premium 
version is similar to the Deluxe version 
we test here, but the Premium version 
includes one PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet con- 
troller and one PCI Gigabit Ethernet con- 
troller. The Premium version also includes 
two FireWire 800 ports and one Fire- 
Wire 400 port. 

Performance 

Before conducting our initial bench- 
marks, we updated the motherboard's AMI 
BIOS from revision 1002 to revision 1007. 
We were able to use the ASUS LiveUpdate 
utility to flash the BIOS from within 



Intel Pentium 4 560 




















& ASUS P5GD2 Deluxe 




















Processor 

Speed FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 
CPU 


PCMark04 
Memory 


PCMark04 
Graphics 


PCMark04 
HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 3.6GHz 200MHz 
Performance 


18 


1.3875V 


5524 


5598 


5430 


3203 


4478 


1655 


14.7fps 


Overclocked 4.23GHz 235MHz 
Performance 


18 


1.55V 


2650 


2502 


2487 


3057 


4413 


1587 


13fps 



46 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Windows. After updating the 
BIOS, we ran our standard bat- 
tery of benchmarks. 

The P5GD2 provided excel- 
lent initial scores. The 5524 over- 
all PCMark04 score was the 
best posted by the P4 560, and 
PCMark04 component scores 
were all strong. The 5598 CPU 
and 5430 Memory scores were 
a slight improvement over the 
5502 and 5388 scores in our 
last case study. The 3203 Graph- 
ics score was one of the best 
Graphics scores we've yet re- 
ceived, and the 4478 HDD score 
was excellent. We posted a high 
1655 3DMark05 score. Despite 
our strong scores, however, we 
only managed I4.7fps in Doom 
3. This is far short of the 17.9fps 
we averaged with our P4 550 and 
MSI Neo2 Platinum mother- 
board. As always, we ran Doom 3 
in High Quality at 1,280 x 1,024 
with 2X antialiasing. 

After recording our initial scores, it was 
time to begin cranking up the clock speed. 
We pressed DELETE during POST to 
access the CMOS Setup Utility and used 
the Arrow keys to move to the Advanced 
menu. To get to the overclocking options, 
we needed to select JumperFree Configura- 
tion and then set AI Overclocking to 
Manual. We then increased the CPU 
Frequency from 200MHz to 210MHz, 
making sure the memory frequency kept 
pace with the FSB increase. The PCI-E fre- 
quency, PCI clock, memory, chipset, 
processor, and FSB termination voltages are 
all adjustable, but we opted to leave all 
options set to Auto. At the bottom of the 
menu, we disabled AiBooster to make sure 
the motherboard didn't dynamically 
increase clock speeds further, and we dis- 
abled the CPU Lock Free option to prevent 
the board from using a lower multiplier. 

The 10MHz increase in FSB speed 
resulted in an additional 180MHz in pro- 
cessor clock speed. We had no problems 
loading Windows and managed a 1656 
3DMark05 score. We also had no problems 
getting the system to boot at 220MHz and 
managed a 1655 3DMark05 score with the 




BIOS 



12V Power 
Connector 

Northbridge- 
(Intel 91 5P) 



Gigabit Ethernet- 
Controller 



Sout 
(Inte 



Silicon Image 
SATA RAID 
Controller 

ibridge 
ICH6R) 



1TE IDE RAID Controller 



High-Definition 
Audio Codec 



24-pin ATX Power Connector 




processor running at 3.96GHz. Pushing the 
FSB speed up to 230MHz, however, caused 
a few problems. We received an error mes- 
sage regarding a missing or corrupted Win- 
dows file. Usually, increasing the memory 
voltage solves this problem, so we increased 
the memory voltage to 1.9V. This fixed 
the error message, but the system still 
rebooted while loading Windows. We 
steadily increased our processor, memory, 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



MSI 91 5G Combo-FR 


Stock Performance 


1577 


Overclocked Performance 


1587 




• ASUS P5GD2 Deluxe 


Stock Performance 


1655 


Overclocked Performance 


1587 




ABIT AA8 DuraMAX 


Stock Performance 


1446 


Overclocked Performance 


1473 



and northbridge voltages until we 
managed to get the system stable 
with a 1.4875V CPU voltage, 
2.1V memory voltage, and 1.6V 
northbridge voltage. We saw our 
3DMark05 scores take a major 
tumble at this speed, falling 
to 1584. 

We were unable to get the sys- 
tem stable at 240MHz. In most 
cases the system wouldn't even 
complete its POST. We managed 
to get the system stable at 235MHz 
by increasing the CPU voltage to 
1.55V Attempts to get the system 
stable at higher clock speeds were 
unsuccessful. We managed to com- 
plete 3DMark05 at 236MHz, but 
PCMark04 crashed consistently. 

In the end, we increased the 
processor's clock speed to 
4.23GHz. At this speed, our 
3DMark05 score showed some 
signs of rebounding, but not 
enough to finish above our origi- 
nal score. We managed just 1587 
in 3DMark05 after an initial score of 1655. 
PCMark04 scores also fell significantly. 
Our overall PCMark04 score fell to 2650 
with our CPU and Memory scores falling to 
2502 and 2487, respectively. Our Graphics 
score also took a slight tumble, falling to 
3057, and our HDD score fell to 4413. 
Doom 3 frame rates also fell to 13fps. 

Final Word 

Once again, we weren't completely satis- 
fied by our results. The 235MHz FSB was 
lower than the 245MHz FSB speeds we've 
come to expect from better motherboards, 
but the P4 560 has a higher default clock 
speed. The P4 560's larger 18X multiplier 
also complicates overclocking a bit. Al- 
though we were 12MHz below the fastest 
FSB speed we've recorded, the 4.23GHz 
processor clock speed is our fastest over- 
clocked processor clock speed recorded so 
far (previously, the P4 550 maxed out at 
4.2GHz with a 247MHz FSB). It's hard to 
get too excited over a 4.23GHz clock speed 
when performance scores suffer to the 
degree they did in this test. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 47 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel Pentium 4 560 

& ABIT AA8 

DuraMAX 



Looking at our last two case studies, 
it appears the 3.6GHz Pentium 4 
560 doesn't have the ability to 
overclock to the same extent as the previous 
processors we've looked at. Using the 
ASUS P5GD2 with the P4 560, we were 
able to increase the FSB to 235MHz. At 
this speed our P4 560 was running at a blis- 
tering 4.23GHz, just barely faster than any 
of our other Intel processors. However, the 
total increase from 3.6GHz to 4.23GHz 
wasn't as dramatic as the increase we saw in 
the P4 550 when we went from 3.4GHz to 
4.2GHz. Despite its 4.23GHz clock speed, 
however, the P4 560 posted some pretty 
abysmal benchmark scores. 

The last board we'll be testing with the 
P4 560 is the ABIT AA8 DuraMAX. This 
board uses the Intel 925X chipset, which 
is supposed to be a step above the 915 
chipsets. In our testing, however, the 
925X has been a bit of a disappointment, 
especially in terms of overclocking. We'll 
see if ABIT is able to reverse the trend. 

Motherboard 

Intel regards the 925X as being a high- 
er-level chipset than the 915P and 915G. 
The 925X contains some improvements 
to reduce memory latency similar to those 
found in the older 875P. We typically 
note better PCMark04 Memory scores on 
925X boards, although the higher memo- 
ry scores don't generally seem to make 



much of a difference in 3DMark05 or 
Doom 3. The 925X also includes support 
for ECC memory, making it more suit- 
able for use in workstations. 

Although the AA8 DuraMAX is sup- 
posed to be a high-end motherboard, it has 
fewer features than the two previous boards 
we've tested. Like most high-end boards, 
the AA8 DuraMAX uses Intel's ICH6R on 
the southbridge. The ICH6R supports 
SATA RAID on up to four SATA drives, 
making a RAID 0+1 configuration possible 
(such a configuration combines the perfor- 
mance enhancements of RAID with the 
redundancy of RAID 1). Intel's Matrix 
technology lets you partition two hard dri- 
ves to create an array similar to a RAID 0+ 1 
array. The ICH6R also supports a single 
IDE channel (up to two IDE devices). 

The ASUS P5GD2 we looked at in the 
last case study included an additional 
SATA RAID controller and an additional 
IDE RAID controller. The MSI 915G 
Combo-FR we looked at previously also 
included an IDE RAID controller. The 
AA8 DuraMAX doesn't include any addi- 
tional hard drive controllers. 

As you might expect, the AA8 Dura- 
MAX does include integrated Gigabit 
Ethernet and a 7.1 -channel high-defi- 
nition audio codec. The high-definition 
codec also supports a SPDIF optical input 
and a SPDIF optical output. A Fire Wire 
400 port is available on the back I/O panel 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.6GHz Pentium 4 560 


Motherboard 


ABIT AA8 DuraMAX 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Award 


BIOS Version 


v17 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.1.1002 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Flopy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



and two additional ports are available via 
onboard motherboard headers. An integrat- 
ed digital readout installed on the mother- 
board itself provides diagnostic codes if the 
motherboard runs into problems. 

Performance 

Most of the motherboards we looked 
at required a BIOS update before we be- 
gan testing. We used the ABIT Flash- 
Menu to upgrade from vl2 to vl7 from 
within Windows. We also installed the 
latest drivers from the ABIT Web site. 

With the drivers installed and the 
BIOS updated, we ran our default bench- 
marks. The ASUS P5GD2 we examined 
in the last case study put up some strong 
scores, but the AA8 DuraMAX was com- 
petitive in PCMark04. We posted a 5522 
PCMark04 score that was just two points 
below the P5GD2 score. Nonetheless, we 
managed an impressive 5673 CPU score 
and a 5541 Memory score. Both scores 
beat out those of the P5GD2 (again, the 
higher memory score is likely due to 
latency reductions in the 925X chipset). 



Intel Pentium 4 560 




















& ABIT AA8 DuraMAX 




















Processor 

Speed FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 
CPU 


PCMark04 
Memory 


PCMark04 
Graphics 


PCMark04 
HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 3.6GHz 200MHz 
Performance 


18 


1.3875V 


5522 


5673 


5541 


2789 


4441 


1446 


14fps 


Overclocked 4.08GHz 226MHz 
Performance 


18 


1.5125V 


4161 


3731 


4727 


2824 


4460 


1473 


13.9fps 



48 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



The 2789 Graphics score, how- 
ever, was well below the 3203 
score posted by the P5GD2 and 
likely the reason for the slightly 
lower overall score. The HDD 
score was also slightly lower 
than the P5GD2's at 4441. Our 
1446 3DMark05 score, on the 
other hand, wasn't even close to 
the P5GD2's 1655 3DMark05 
score. To test Doom 3 per- 
formance, we set the display 
options to High Quality at 
1,280 x 1,024 with 2X antialias- 
ing. We averaged I4fps in the 
default Doom 3 timedemo. 

ABIT includes its uGuru 
Windows overclocking soft- 
ware, but we're not fond of 
Windows-based overclocking 
software. Instead, we rebooted 
the system and pressed the 
DELETE key to enter the 
CMOS Setup Utility. Over- 
clocking options are found 
under the uGuru Utility in the Setup 
Utility. We selected CPU Operating 
Speed and changed the setting to User 
Define. We were then able to increase 
the External Clock from the default 
204MHz (this board was slightly over- 
clocked by default) to 210MHz. We 
selected DDR533 (3:4) for DDR 
Frequency and left all options, including 
processor, memory, and northbridge 
voltages, the same. After saving our 
settings and rebooting, the system 
informed us the processor was running 
at 3.8GHz. 

The system was stable at this speed, 
although we experienced no increase in 
3DMark05 scores. We increased the 
FSB again to 220MHz and began to 
encounter a few problems. Although 
the system booted fine, it consistently 
crashed while running 3DMark05. 
Increasing the memory voltage didn't 
stabilize the system, so we began to 
steadily increase the CPU voltage. At 
1.4625V we finally managed to com- 
plete 3DMark05 with an improved 
1469 score. 

We had major trouble at 230MHz. 
We increased our CPU voltage until we 




12V Power 
Connector 

24-pin ATX Power- 1 
Connector 



Northbridge (Intel 925X) 
Gigabit Ethernet Controller — ' 



High-Definition 
Audio Codec 

Southbridge 
(Intel ICH6R) 




the processor was running at 
4.05GHz. We had to increase 
the CPU voltage to 1.5125V to 
get the system stable. This time 
we saw a slight decline in our 
3DMark05 score to 1467. 

Once again, we had stability 
problems at 227MHz but man- 
aged to get the system run- 
ning at 226MHz. At this speed, 
the processor was running at 
4.08GHz. The 1MHz increase 
caused a six-point increase 
in our 3DMark05 score. The 
increase, however, wasn't consis- 
tent with PCMark04. Our over- 
all PCMark04 score fell 
to 4161 with our CPU score 
falling to 3731 and our Mem-ory 
score falling to 4727. Our 
Graphics and HDD scores 
increased slightly to 2824 and 
4460, respectively. Our average 
Doom 3 frame rates also dropped 
slightly to 13.9fps. 



Final Word 



reached 1.5625V. The motherboard 
allowed us to increase the voltage 
beyond this mark, but each time we 
tried, the system reset the voltage to 
1.5625V. Increasing the memory and 
northbridge voltage allowed us to final- 
ly boot Windows, but the system still 
rebooted each time we tried to run 
3DMark05. We had no choice but to 
return to 225MHz and see if we could 
get the system stable. At 225MHz, 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



MSI 91 5G Combo-FR 


Stock Performance 


1577 


Overclocked Performance 


1587 




ASUS P5GD2 Deluxe 


Stock Performance 


1655 


Overclocked Performance 


1587 




• ABIT AA8 DuraMAX 


Stock Performance 


1446 


Overclocked Performance 


1473 



We were disappointed we couldn't 
push the P4 560 a little further than we 
did on any of the three motherboards 
we tested. We managed to get the pro- 
cessor up to 4.23GHz, which was just 
slightly faster than the 4.2GHz speed we 
reached with the P4 550. Because of the 
P4 560's higher multiplier, however, we 
reached 4.23GHz with just a 235MHz 
FSB, a little more than 10MHz less than 
our fastest FSB speed. 

We weren't too surprised that the 
ABIT AA8 DuraMAX allowed more lim- 
ited overclocking than the 915P. In gen- 
eral, it seems more difficult to overclock 
925X motherboards. This likely means 
that Intel's 915P will be more popular 
among overclockers than Intel's 92 5X in 
much the same way that Intel's 865PE 
was more popular than its 875P. This 
time around, our 3DMark05 score made 
steady improvement, but once again 
PCMark04 scores fell dramatically as we 
increased our clock speed. Doom 3 scores 
also fell at our higher clock speed. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 49 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 

Extreme Edition 

& GIGABYTE 

GA-8I915G Pro 



So far, all the Pentium 4 processors 
we've looked at feature Intel's new 
Prescott core, but Prescott-based 
processors aren't the only ones making 
the jump to LGA 775. The 3.4GHz 
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition features 
Intel's Gallatin core, which has more in 
common with older Northwood cores 
than with Prescott. 

Just because Gallatin is based on a slight- 
ly older core, however, doesn't mean it's 
going to lag behind newer Prescott cores. 
Like Northwood processors, the Gallatin 
core is produced using a 0.13-micron fabri- 
cation process and, like Northwood, 
Gallatin has a more efficient 20-stage 
pipeline. By comparison, Prescott cores are 
made using a 0.09-micron fabrication 
process and include a 31 -stage pipeline. 
Prescott's smaller transistors allow Intel to 
push clock speed higher while reducing 
voltage, but smaller transistors leak energy 
in the form of excess heat, causing Prescott 
to run much hotter than Northwood and 
Gallatin. The longer pipeline also makes it 
easier for Intel to increase clock speeds, but 
it makes the processor less efficient than 
Northwood and Gallatin. 

Gallatin's 2MB of L3 cache is the pri- 
mary difference between Gallatin and 
Northwood. This extra cache allows the 



processor to keep more data readily avail- 
able and improves performance compared 
to a standard 3.4GHz Pentium 4. Cache, 
however, is expensive, making the P4 EE 
one of Intel's most expensive processors. 

At 3.4GHz, Intel has pretty much got- 
ten all it can from its Northwood and 
Gallatin cores. That means that squeezing 
some extra megahertz out of our 3.4GHz 
P4 EE could be difficult. 

Motherboard 

The GIGABYTE GA-8I915G Pro is a 
straightforward 915G motherboard. 
GIGABYTE opted to support 4GB of 
DDR memory so, unlike the majority of 
our 915 and 925X boards, we'll have to 
use our OCZ PC4400 DDR memory. 

The GA-8I915G Pro is the first moth- 
erboard we've looked at in a long time 
that doesn't use Intel's ICH6R on the 
southbridge. The standard ICH6 supports 
four SATA hard drives, but it doesn't offer 
any RAID support. The ICH6 also sup- 
ports a single IDE channel. No additional 
hard drive controllers are included. 

Like most 915 and 925X motherboards, 
the GA-8I915G Pro includes an integrated 
high-definition audio codec and Gigabit 
Ethernet controller. The C-Media 9880 
audio codec provides 7.1 -channel surround 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme 
Edition 


Motherboard 


GIGABYTE 6A-8I915G Pro 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Award 


BIOS Version 


F7 


Chipset Driver 


6.2.1.1001 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDR PC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



sound as well as one coaxial SPDIF input 
and one coaxial SPDIF output. The 
Marvell 8001 GIGABYTE Ethernet con- 
troller uses the PCI bus, which creates a 
bottleneck that will limit actual through- 
put to much less than lGbps. The moth- 
erboard also includes a FireWire 400 
controller. No FireWire ports are available 
on the rear I/O panel, but an expansion 
bracket with two FireWire ports connects 
to a motherboard header. 

The 915G includes Intel's new inte- 
grated GMA (Graphics Media Accelera- 
tor) 900. The GMA 900 eliminates the 
need for a new PCI-E video card, but its 
performance is pretty poor. We stayed 
with our ASUS video card rather than rely 
on the integrated graphics. 

Performance 

Before we ran our first batch of bench- 
marks, we upgraded the BIOS to the ver- 
sion F7. GIGABYTE provides two ways to 
upgrade the BIOS. @BIOS is a Windows- 
based utility that lets you upgrade the 



3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 
& GIGABYTE GA-8I915G Pro 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 



Processor 
Speed 

3.4GHz 

3.62GHz 



PCMark04 PCMark04 PCMark04 PCMark04 
FSB Multiplier Voltage PCMark04 CPU Memory Graphics HDD 3DMark05 


Doom 3 




200MHz 
212MHz 


17 
17 


1.575V 5173 
1.6 V 5485 


5127 5018 
5392 5177 


3020 4439 
3045 4453 


1515 
1508 


16.4fps 
16.5fps 



50 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



BIOS from the point-and-click 
comfort of Windows. Instead of 
taking the time to install the 
@BIOS utility, however, we 
decided to use the Q-Flash 
Utility integrated into the sys- 
tem's BIOS. As the system con- 
ducted its POST, we pressed 
DELETE to enter the CMOS 
Setup Utility and pressed F8 to 
enter the Q-Flash Utility. From 
here we were able to upgrade the 
BIOS from the floppy disk. After 
the upgrade was complete, we 
rebooted the system. 

The GA-8I915G Pro posted 
some competitive scores. We 
managed a 5173 PCMark04 
score along with a 5127 CPU 
score and a 5018 Memory score. 
The 3020 Graphics score was 
strong, while the 4439 HDD 
score was about average. While 
these scores were competitive 
with scores from previous 
boards, the 2MB of L3 cache on our P4 
EE didn't seem to make much of an 
impact. We tested the 3.4GHz P4 550 on 
Foxconn's 915G-based 915M03-G- 
8EKRS2 motherboard. That system post- 
ed a 5226 CPU score, but its 2784 
Graphics score caused a lower overall 
PCMark04 score of 5052. 

We did, however, manage a good 1515 
3DMark05 score. We only managed a 
1440 3DMark05 score with P4 550 on 
the Foxconn board. Our Doom 3 frame 
rates were also better. We ran the stan- 
dard Doom 3 timedemo on High Quality 
at 1,280 x 1,024 with 2X antialiasing and 
managed 16.4fps. By comparison, we 
managed just 13.8fps using the P4 550 
and the Foxconn board. 

Overclocking the P4 EE proved as dif- 
ficult as we anticipated. "We started by 
increasing the FSB 5% to 210MHz. To 
increase the FSB, we once again entered 
the CMOS Setup Utility. This time we 
used the Arrow keys to select MB 
Intelligent Tweaker (MIT). Setting the 
CPU Host Clock Control to Enabled let 
us increase the CPU Host Frequency 
from 200 to 210MHz. We also adjusted 
the Memory Frequency For from Auto to 




12V Power 
Connector 



24-pin ATX Power 
Connector 



Northbridge (Intel 9156) 
Gigabit Ethernet Controller 



Southbridge 
(Intel ICH6R) 

hligh -Definition 
Audio Codec 



rS^i-M tfflmHHHHHHHMMi JB 


g| 


Mmtm^ 


-«i: PPi 





2, ensuring the system wouldn't under- 
clock our PC4400 memory. We left our 
memory, PCI-E, and CPU voltages set to 
Normal. The P4 EE requires a lot more 
voltage than Prescott-based processors. 
The default voltage as detected by this 
board was set to 1.575V and the maxi- 
mum voltage this board could deliver to 
the CPU was just 1.6V. This made it 
very unlikely that we'd be able to deliver 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



• GIGABYTE GA-8I915G Pro 


Stock Performance 


1515 


Overclocked Performance 


1508 




Chaintech V915P Zenith VE 


Stock Performance 


1409 


Overclocked Performance 


1468 




ASUS P5AD2 Premium 


Stock Performance 


1658 


Overclocked Performance 


1685 



the kind of voltage needed to 
stabilize this processor at higher 
clock speeds. 

We had no trouble with sta- 
bility at 210MHz. The system 
posted a 1518 3DMark05 score 
with the processor running at 
3.57GHz. Increasing the FSB to 
220MHz, however, proved diffi- 
cult. "We slowly increased proces- 
sor, memory, and PCI-E voltage 
to their full extent and still failed 
to get the system stable. We were 
able to get a 1508 3DMark05 
score at 213MHz, but the system 
couldn't complete PCMark04. 
We had to bring the FSB speed 
down to 212MHz to get a sys- 
tem stable enough to deliver 
both PCMark04 scores and a 
3DMark05 score. The 3.62GHz 
processor delivered a 1508 
3DMark05 score. PCMark04 
scores also increased nicely con- 
sidering we saw only a minor 
increase in clock speed. Our overall score 
increased to 5485 with our CPU score 
climbing to 5392 and our Memory score 
rising to 5177. Our Graphics score 
increased 25 points to 3045 and our 
HDD score increased slightly to 4453. 
We picked up O.lfps in Doom 3 as our 
average frame rate increased to 16.5fps. 

Final Word 

We didn't expect the P4 EE to be a 
fantastic overclocker, especially using 
stock cooling. We were even more dis- 
couraged about our overclocking poten- 
tial when we saw the board could only 
provide a maximum of 1.6V to the CPU. 
This wouldn't be so limiting if we were 
working with a Prescott processor with a 
default core voltage of under 1 ,4V, but 
when you're starting at 1.575V, this just 
doesn't leave you nearly enough room. In 
the last several case studies, PCMark04 
scores have dropped as we increased the 
clock speeds on the P4 550 and P4 560. 
In this instance, we saw 3DMark05 scores 
fall slightly, but we were happy to see a 
solid increase in PCMark04 scores. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 51 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 

Extreme Edition 

& Chaintech V915P 

Zenith VE 



In our last case study, the 3.4GHz 
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition didn't 
fare too well when it came time to 
overclock. We managed to increase the 
FSB to just 212MHz, bumping up the 
processor's clock speed 0.22GHz to 
3.62GHz. The Gallatin core used in the 
Extreme Edition, however, is similar to 
the Northwood core that seems to have 
maxed out at 3.4GHz. 

In this case study, we'll pair our P4 EE 
with an Intel 91 5P chipset. So far, our 
best successes have all come on 915P 
boards, and we're hoping that trend will 
continue. Our 3.4GHz P4 EE may not 
make it to 4GHz, but it should certainly 
go faster than 3.62GHz. 

Motherboard 

In the past, we've had excellent luck 
with Chaintech motherboards from a per- 
formance and overclocking standpoint. 
Unfortunately, Chaintech doesn't offer 
much in the way of LGA 775 boards. The 
company's only 915P motherboard is the 
V915P Zenith VE. Normally, Chaintech 
reserves the Zenith name for tricked-out 
boards with a large number of features. 
In this case, however, the VE stands for 
Value Edition, so we guess the name is 
a way of denoting a board with a fairly 



high-end chipset but not much else in the 
way of features. RAID and DDR2 sup- 
port are the primary casualties of this 
value-oriented approach. 

The lack of DDR2 support means 
we'll have to use our OCZ PC4400 DDR 
memory modules yet again. We'll get a 
look at the P4 EE with DDR2 in our next 
case study. The ICH6 doesn't include any 
RAID support, but it does support up to 
four SATA drives and up to two IDE 
drives on a single IDE channel. 

The ALC880 audio codec provides 
high-definition audio, but unlike most 
915 and 925X boards, you won't find 
SPDIF inputs or outputs on this board. 
The Marvell 8001 Gigabit Ethernet con- 
troller provides Gigabit Ethernet support, 
but it uses the older and slower PCI bus. 
As a result, actual throughput is much 
lower than lGbps. 

Four USB 2.0 ports are available and 
additional motherboard headers let you 
connect an additional four USB 2.0 
ports. This board doesn't include any 
Fire Wire support. 

The V915P also doesn't include any 
exotic storage options. The ICH6 supports 
four SATA drives and two IDE drives, but 
it lacks support for RAID. No additional 
RAID controllers are offered on the 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme 
Edition 


Motherboard 


Chaintech V915P Zenith VE 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Award 


BIOS Version 


6.00 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.0.1014 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) EL Dual Channel 
Series Gold Edition 184-pin 
DDR PC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



motherboard. The lack of extras, however, 
helps keep prices low. You can find the 
V915P online for a little more than $100. 

Performance 

The Chaintech V915P and our P4 EE 
seem to be speaking slightly different lan- 
guages. Initially, the board wouldn't 
POST with the 3.4GHz P4 EE installed. 
To make sure there wasn't a problem with 
the board, we replaced the P4 EE with our 
P4 560 and everything worked fine. We 
put the P4 EE back in place, and this time 
the heatsink fan refused to spin when we 
powered on the system. We replaced the 
P4 EE with the P4 560's heatsink and 
everything appeared to be working fine. 
Incidentally, the P4 EE's original heatsink 
worked fine on our next board. 

Chaintech had no driver updates avail- 
able online, leaving us no choice but to 
use the drivers included with the board. 
There were no BIOS updates available 
either, so we were ready to begin testing 
after installing the necessary drivers. But 



Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 
















& Chaintech V915P Zenith VE 
















Processor ■ 

Speed FSB Multiplier Voltage 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 
CPU 


PCMark04 
Memory 


PCMark04 
Graphics 


PCMark04 
HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 3.4GHz 200MHz 17 1.575V 
Performance 


5068 


5227 


5082 


2789 


4438 


1409 


17fps 


Overclocked 3.74GHz 220MHz 17 1.7V 
Performance 


5469 


5753 


5598 


2813 


4440 


1468 


13.9fps 



52 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



we realized something still wasn't 
quite right when the system re- 
booted in the middle of run- 
ning PCMark04. 

We rebooted the system and 
pressed DELETE during POST 
to enter the CMOS Setup Utility. 
We used the arrow keys to select 
the Advanced tab near the top of 
the screen and then scrolled down 
to Frequency/Voltage Control. 
This section contains settings rele- 
vant to overclocking. We noticed 
the motherboard improperly set 
our P4 EE's voltage at 1.3875V, 
the same as a Prescott-based pro- 
cessor. According to Intel, the 
default voltage for the P4 EE is 
between 1.525V and 1.6V. We 
manually increased the voltage to 
1.575V to match the default volt- 
age used by the GIGABYTE GA- 
8I915G Pro in our last case study. 

The adjustment stabilized our 
system and let us complete our 
testing. Our default scores were mixed 
compared to the scores posted from our 
previous case study. "We received a 5068 
overall PCMark04 score composed pri- 
marily of a 5227 CPU score and a 5082 
Memory score. The CPU and Memory 
scores were both higher than the stock 
scores in our last case study, but the over- 
all PCMark04 score was lower primarily 
due to the low 2789 Graphics score post- 
ed by the V915P. The 4438 HDD score 
was about average. 

Considering the low Graphics score, we 
weren't too surprised to see a low 1409 
3DMark05 score. We also ran Doom 3 in 
High Quality at 1,280 x 1,024 with 2X 
antialiasing. Our 17fps average was slight- 
ly faster than in our previous case study. 

After recording the default scores above, 
we began overclocking the system. We 
returned to the Frequency/Voltage Con- 
trol section in the CMOS Setup Utility. 
This time we increased the CPU Host 
Frequency from 200MHz to 210MHz. 
We also changed System Memory Fre- 
quency from Auto to 400MHz to ensure 
the system didn't underclock our PC4400 
memory (the memory's actual frequency 
after increasing the FSB was 420MHz and 




24-pin ATX 
Power Connector 



12V Power 
Connector 



Northbridge (Intel 915P) 
High-Definition Audio Codec- 1 



Gigabit 

Ethernet 

Controller 



Southbridge 
(Intel ICH6) 




We 



displayed to the right of this setting). We 
left our DDR, northbridge, and processor 
voltages alone for now. 

The system had no problems running 
at 210MHz and we managed a slight 
3DMark05 increase to 1427. When we 
pushed the FSB up to 220MHz, however, 
the system began spontaneously rebooting 
during 3DMark05. Our first step was to 
increase the CPU voltage to 1.6V In our 
last case study, this was the maximum 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



GIGABYTE GA-8I915G Pro 


Stock Performance 


1515 


Overclocked Performance 


1508 




• Chaintech V915P Zenith VE 


Stock Performance 


1409 


Overclocked Performance 


1468 




ASUS P5AD2 Premium 


Stock Performance 


1658 


Overclocked Performance 


1685 



voltage the GA-8I915G Pro 
could provide to the processor. 
The V915P, however, could de- 
liver up to 1.9V to the processor. 
Unfortunately, the voltage began 
to increase by 0.1V after 1.6V, 
making it impossible to fine-tune 
the voltage at faster speeds. 

The increased CPU voltage still 
didn't stabilize the system, so we 
began to increase our memory 
and northbridge voltages to + 0.2V 
and +0.1V, respectively. When 
this still didn't alleviate the prob- 
lem, we increased our processor 
voltage to 1.7V. We were finally 
able to get a 1468 3DMark05 
score with the processor running 
at 220MHz. 

We weren't able to get the sys- 
tem stable at higher clock speeds. 
We tried increasing the processor 
voltage further. Playing with our 
memory and northbridge voltages 
didn't help the situation, 
returned to 220MHz to run 
PCMark04. We noted some significant 
improvements as our overall score increased 
to 5469. Our CPU and Memory scores 
showed the most improvement, increas- 
ing to 5753 and 5598. The Graphics and 
HDD scores showed smaller improvement 
to 2813 and 4440, respectively. Despite 
significant gains in 3DMark05 and 
PCMark04, however, our average Doom 3 
frame rate fell to 13.9fps. 

Final Word 

Normally, we wouldn't be too happy 
with an overclock to 220MHz. In this 
case, however, we were just happy to see 
something beyond the 212MHz over- 
clock in our previous case study. We've 
seen our best overclocking results with 
Intel's 915P, so 3.74GHz may be the best 
our Gallatin-based processor can achieve. 

In our final Intel case study, we'll pair 
the 3.4GHz P4 EE with Intel's 925X 
chipset and see if we can move beyond 
the 3.74GHz processor clock speed with 
an ASUS P5AD2 motherboard. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 53 






CASE STUDIES 



Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 

Extreme Edition 
& ASUS P5AD2 Premium 



So far the overclocking potential 
of the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Ex- 
treme Edition has been pretty 
disappointing. Considering the P4 EE's 
Gallatin core is based on Intel's older 
Northwood core, we're not too sur- 
prised it doesn't overclock to the same 
extent as the Prescott processors we 
examined earlier. Intel has more or less 
hit the speed limit on Northwood (that 
is, after all, the original reason for the 
switch to Prescott). 

Nonetheless, our first outing with the 
P4 EE was extremely disappointing as 
we managed to get the FSB up to just 
212MHz, resulting in a jump in pro- 
cessor clock speed from 3.4GHz to 
3.62GHz. Our next attempt was some- 
what better as we managed to crank 
up the FSB to 220MHz, resulting in a 
3.74GHz processor clock speed. For our 
third attempt with this processor, we'll 
be using an ASUS board with an Intel 
925X chipset. 

Motherboard 

ASUS has a great reputation among 
overclockers, and the company has had 
much success breaking Intel's 10% over- 
clock limit. We haven't, however, had 
good luck overclocking processors on 
925X-based motherboards. 

The 925X uses a few tricks to reduce 
memory latency and provide a slight 
performance boost. We often notice 
a slight increase in our PCMark04 



Memory scores when testing 925X 
motherboards. We haven't, how- 
ever, noticed much of a difference 
in 3DMark05 or Doom 3 scores, mak- 
ing it difficult to justify the price. Of 
course, if you're planning to create 
a workstation, the 925X provides sup- 
port for ECC memory, making it 
slightly more attractive than 915- 
based boards. 

If you're going to shell out the money 
for a 925X motherboard, odds are you're 
not interested in cutting corners with 
older DDR memory. This is a good thing 
because the 92 5X doesn't support older 
DDR memory. The P5AD2 supports a 
full 4GB of DDR2 memory. 

Like the 915P-based ASUS P5GD2 
we looked at earlier, the P5AD2 in- 
cludes integrated 802.1 lg. We've seen a 
few other boards that include a wireless 
PCI card, but the beauty to ASUS' 
approach is that there's no need to use 
up a PCI slot. An included antenna con- 
nects to the back I/O panel and helps 
improve reception. 

There are two versions of the P5AD2. 
We're testing the Premium version, 
which includes two Marvell 8053 
Gigabit Ethernet controllers. These con- 
trollers use the motherboard's PCI-E 
bus, which provides less of a throughput 
limitation than the older and slower 
PCI bus. The motherboard also sup- 
ports two FireWire 800 ports and one 
Fire Wire 400 port. The P5AD2 Deluxe, 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


3.4GHz Pentium 
4 Extreme Edition 


Motherboard 


ASUS P5AD2 Premium 


BIOS Mfr. 


AMI 


BIOS Version 


1009 


Chipset Driver 


6.0.1.1002 


Graphics Driver ASUS 8.05 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ Platinum 
Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 


Common Components 


Video 


ASUS EAX600XT PCI-E 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 
80GB 7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Stock 


CPU Fan 


Stock 


Optical Drive 


Pioneer Black 8X DVD±RW 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


Enermax Noisetaker 
EG475P-VE SFMA 470W 


Case 


Coolermaster Wave Master 



on the other hand, only includes one 
Marvel 8053 controller and two Fire- 
Wire 400 ports. 

ASUS didn't skimp on storage 
options. Unlike our two previous 
boards, the P5AD2 includes an Intel 
ICH6R, which provides SATA RAID 
support across a total of four SATA hard 
drives. The Silicon Image SATA RAID 
controller lets you configure a second 
RAID array using up to four additional 
SATA drives. The ICH6R only supports 
a total of two IDE drives on a single 
channel, but the ITE IDE RAID con- 
troller lets you create a RAID array from 
old IDE hard drives. 

Performance 

Before we recorded any scores, we 
used the ASUS LiveUpdate utility to 
upgrade to the latest BIOS. At the time 
we tested this board, the latest BIOS 
was version 1009. The LiveUpdate utili- 
ty let us perform the upgrade from with- 
in Windows. 



Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 
ASUS P5AD2 Premium 



Processor 
Speed 

Stock 3.4GHz 

Performance 

Overclocked 3.74GHz 
Performance 



FSB Multiplier Voltage PCMark04 

200MHz 17 1.575V 5239 

220MHz 17 1.6V 5698 


PCMark04 
CPU 

5253 

5680 


PCMark04 
Memory 

5217 

5625 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

3195 

3264 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4441 

4471 


3DMark05 

1658 

1685 


Doom 3 

14.6fps 

15.2fps 



54 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



After completing the up- 
grade, we looked through the 
CMOS Setup Utility (press 
DELETE during the system's 
POST) to make sure all the 
settings were correct. To find 
the overclocking options, we 
used the Arrow keys to select 
the Advanced tab at the top of 
the screen, selected Jump- 
er-Free Configuration, and 
pressed ENTER. We noticed 
that the AI Overclocking op- 
tion was set to Auto. To en- 
sure the motherboard didn't 
dynamically increase clock 
speeds, we changed the setting 
to Standard. 

After saving our settings and 
exiting the Setup Utility, we 
began our initial testing. 

Almost all of the P5AD2's 
scores were the best we've 
recorded so far. We started 
with a 5239 overall PCMark04 
score and a very good 5253 
CPU score. The DDR2 mem- 
ory combined with the 925X's reduced 
latency produced a very good 5217 
Memory score, as well. The 3195 
Graphics and 4441 HDD score were 
also the best stock scores we've seen 
with the P4 EE. We've seen plenty of 
instances where high PCMark04 scores 
translated into low 3DMark04 scores 
and vice versa. The P5AD2, however, 
managed an excellent 1658 3DMark05 
score. The only low spot was our 
I4.6fps average frame rate in Doom 3. 
As always, we ran the timedemo in 
High Quality at 1,280 x 1,024 with 
2X antialiasing. 

After recording the above scores, it was 
time to begin our overclocking. We 
returned to the JumperFree Configuration 
portion of the CMOS Setup Utility and 
changed the AI Overclocking option from 
Standard to Manual. Overclocking op- 
tions appeared, letting us increase CPU 
Frequency from 200MHz to 210MHz. 
Occasionally, a motherboard can under- 
clock memory modules, so we set the 
DRAM Frequency to 560MHz to prevent 
this from happening. We left Performance 




12V Power 
Connector 

24-pin ATX Power 
Connector 



Northbridge- 
(Intel 925X) 



Gigabit Ethernet 

Controllers 

High-Definition 
Southbridge (Intel ICH6R)-I Audio Codec 



ITE IDE RAID ^ 
Controller 

Silicon Image — 
SATA RAID 
Controller 




Mode set to Standard and left our memo- 
ry, chipset, CPU, and FSB termination 
voltages all set to Auto. The processor 
clock speed increased to 3.57GHz after 
restarting the system. 

We had no stability issues at 210MHz, 
but we also didn't see any increase in 
3DMark05 scores. We increased the FSB 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



GIGABYTE GA-8I915G Pro 


Stock Performance 


1515 


Overclocked Performance 


1508 




Chaintech V915P Zenith VE 


Stock Performance 


1409 


Overclocked Performance 


1468 




* ASUS P5AD2 Premium 


Stock Performance 


1658 


Overclocked Performance 


1685 



another 10MHz, resulting in 
a 3.74GHz processor clock 
speed. The system booted with- 
out any problems, but it reboot- 
ed in the middle of 3DMark05. 
We increased the voltage, first 
to 1.6V and then to 1.625V, 
but neither setting provided any 
sort of stability. At this point 
we tried increasing the memory 
and northbridge voltages, but 
we didn't have any success sta- 
bilizing the system. Finally, we 
changed Performance Mode 
from Standard to Turbo and 
backed all our voltages down 
to Auto. 3DMark05 froze dur- 
ing testing, so we increased the 
CPU voltage to 1.6V. This 
seemed to stabilize the sys- 
tem and resulted in a 1685 
3DMark05 score. 

Once again, we were unsuc- 
cessful getting the system stable 
enough to complete 3DMark05 
at higher clock speeds. In most 
cases, the system either froze up 
or rebooted while running 3DMark05. We 
returned to 220MHz to run PCMark04. 
We saw pretty significant increases in all 
of our scores. The overall PCMark04 
score increased to 5698 based on a 5680 
CPU and a 5625 Memory score. Our 
Graphics score also increased slightly to 
3264 and our HDD score saw modest 
improvement to 4471. Our Doom 3 score 
also increased to 15.2fps. 

Final Word 

Once again, we failed to push the 
3.4GHz P4 EE past 3.74GHz. With 
better cooling, however, we think we 
probably would've seen a little better 
success. Nonetheless, we were very 
happy with most of the P5AD2's scores. 
Doom 3 was a slight disappointment, 
but we've certainly seen worse scores. 
There's little question that the P5AD2 
was one of the best 925X motherboards 
we saw both in terms of overclocking 
and performance. CPU 

by Chad Denton 



CPU / PC Modder 55 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Sempron 2800+ 
& SOYO KT880 Dragon 2 



The Sempron, which is available 
in both socket A and socket 754 
flavors, replaces AMD's value- 
line Duron and the aging Athlon XP fam- 
ily. Inexpensive and weak though they 
may be, Semprons are overclockable, so 
we bought a 2800+ and popped it into 
our KT880 Dragon 2 system. 

Motherboard 

The KT880 is the only motherboard in 
this roundup that boasts VIA's KT880 and 
VT8237 chipset. As with its NVIDIA- 
based competitors, the board has dual- 
channel memory slots, but unlike the DFI 
LANParty NFII Ultra B and the MSI 
K7N2 Delta2 Platinum Edition, the 
KT880 has four slots and supports up to 
4GB of PC3200 DDR RAM. And that's 
not the only feature the board lords over 
the other mobos: the KT880 has not three, 
but four IDE ports and supports RAID 0, 
1, and 0+1. However, SATA drive users 
won't be disappointed, either — SOYO 
squeezed four SATA connectors onto this 
already crowded board. A VIA VT6307 
chip handles the two internal FireWire 
connectors. 

The CPU socket stands very close to 
the board, but unlike the LANParty, it is 
in the top center, which means the heat- 
sink won't disrupt the PSU's airflow, 
assuming your PSU sits just above your 
board. Overall, we like this board's layout, 
but we're not sure we like the I/O area, 
which lacks both parallel and serial ports. 
Weirdly enough, the board includes inter- 
nal parallel and serial connectors, as well as 
an expansion model that brings the ports 



to — you guessed it — the back of your PC. 
As a result, the top of the I/O area is emp- 
ty, save for a lonely CPU fan connector. 
(This board has three connectors for CPU 
fans and another three chassis fan connec- 
tors. Stay calm.) The I/O shield covers the 
gaping hole, but we'd like to see SOYO 
use this space for more than a vent. 

The board has Gigabit LAN, thanks to 
a VIA VT122 controller, and 8-channel 
audio, courtesy of a C-Media CMI9780 
audio codec. The extras package is light, 
but it covers the basics: four SATA cables, 
ribbon cables, and a one-use tube of ther- 
mal paste. The driver CD includes Panda 
Antivirus and a few basic utilities. Over- 
clockers may need to remove the jumper 
from the ABR (And Burn Regulator) pins 
near the top two CPU fan connectors to 
disable ABR before overclocking. If you 
enable the feature (by putting the header 
on the pins), the system shuts down when 
your CPU gets too hot. ABR shouldn't 
affect processors that have Thoroughbred 
cores, but we disabled it anyway before 
overclocking. We cause enough system 
shutdowns as it is. 

Overclock 

Mobo makers generally discourage users 
from updating the BIOS unless the update 
will fix a problem that the motherboard is 
experiencing. After all, the BIOS is partic- 
ularly vulnerable during an update (if your 
PC loses power during a BIOS update, the 
BIOS chip is most likely toast). With that 
in mind, we updated the BIOS on every 
single motherboard in the Case Studies 
section, geeky rebels that we are. Whether 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Sempron 2800+ 


Motherboard 


SOYO KT880 Dragon 2 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


American Megatrends 


BIOS Version 


SOYO k8804aa1 


Chipset Driver 


VIA 453 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 
9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX-VE- 
SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



you update the BIOS is up to you — unless 
you have a Sempron processor. 

Because manufacturers built the socket 
A and socket 754 boards for Athlon 
XP/Durons and Athlon 64s respectively, 
the new Semprons throw some unsuspect- 
ing mobos for a loop. You can put the 
processor into the socket and then power 
on the system without first updating the 
motherboard, but you might not see the 
CPU's max stock performance until you 
perform the BIOS update. Feel free to up- 
date to the latest version of the BIOS, even 
if the manufacturer's BIOS download time- 
line indicates that an earlier BIOS solved 
the CPU recognition problem — each suc- 
ceeding BIOS update also carries previous 
BIOS updates. We downloaded and 
installed the latest BIOS update (American 
Megatrends, SOYO version k8804aal). 

Next, we installed Windows, loaded the 
latest drivers, and then took our new test 
rig for a spin. At stock settings, the KT880 
posted solid benchmark scores that put the 



AMD Sempron 2800+ 


















Soyo KT880 Dragon 2 




















Processor 

Speed FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 
CPU 


PCMark04 
Memory 


PCMark04 
Graphics 


PCMark04 
HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 
Performance 


2GHz 166MHz 


12 


1.6V 


3363 


3249 


2196 


4205 


4503 


2351 


22.4fps 


Overclocked 
Performance 


2.16GHz 180MHz 


12 


1.6V 


3627 


3493 


2349 


4215 


4483 


2383 


23.3fps 



56 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



BIOS 



board in the number 2 slot 
right away, just behind the 
K7N2. The SOYO board's 
3363 overall PC-Mark04 
score trailed the K7N2 
by only 38 points, and it 
snagged the top PCMark04 
Graphics component score 
at 4205. That's only a one- 
point victory, but hey, a 
win's a win. The board also 
posted the fastest Doom 3 
frame rate at 22.4fps. 

Armed with worthy base- 
line scores, we re-entered the 
BIOS and headed to the 
overclocking section. The 
main page's first category, 
SOYO COMBO Feature, 
wraps all of the board's over- 
clocking features into a large 
but well-organized package. 
The SOYO COMBO Feat- 
ure page has two subsec- 
tions: System Perf. & Over- 
Clocking and Advanced 
Tune-up Settings. This page 
lists basic voltage and RAID options, but if 
you want to delve into the real guts of the 
system, you'll need to enable one of these 
two subsections (the subsection then ap- 
pears on the same page). We planned to 
raise the frequency before adjusting the 
voltage, so we highlighted the top subsec- 
tion and pressed ENTER, which displayed 
CPU FSB Select. When we switched this 
from Auto to Manual, it displayed seven 
frequencies, ranging from 100MHz to 
200MHz. We wanted to increase the CPU 
frequency in small increments, so we 
switched this field to manual. The same 
field then let us choose frequencies from 
100MHz to 327MHz in 1MHz incre- 
ments. As complicated as it sounds, it's 
actually one of the better menus we've seen. 

We bumped the frequency from 
166MHz to 176MHz and rebooted. We 
were surprised to see that the POST screen 
displayed 166MHz briefly before loading 
Windows, but CPU-Z, a free system diag- 
nostic tool, quickly confirmed that the sys- 
tem was operating at 176MHz (2.11GHz) 
and the benchmarks cleared any doubts 
about the processor's increased speed. The 




Audio 
Codec 

Southbridge 
(VIA VT8237) 



Morthbridge 
(VIA KT880) 



SATA 
Connectors 



ATX Power 
Connector 

Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




KT880 posted a decent 22-point increase 
in 3DMark05 at 2373 but really took off in 
PCMark04 with a score of 3434: a 185- 
point increase. The board also raised its 
Doom 3 frame rate to 22.6fps. 

Unfortunately, the board's strong 
showing didn't last long. When we hit 
186MHz, our test PC refused to load 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



* SOYO KT880 Dragon 2 


Stock Performance 


2351 




Overclocked Performance 


2383 






DFI LANParty NFII Ultra B 




■ 


Stock Performance 


1815 




Overclocked Performance 


1824 






MSI K7N2 Delta2 Platinum Edition 




■ 


Stock Performance 


2455 




Overclocked Performance 


2529 





Windows and automatically 
rebooted (and rebooted, and 
rebooted). We backed down 
to 180MHz, at which point 
the system posted what 
turned out to be its highest 
(and last) scores. It jumped 
only 10 points to 2383 in 
3DMark05 and 55 points in 
PCMark04, but it managed 
to land the largest Doom 3 
frame rate increase in this 
roundup at 23.3fps. 

We suspected that we 
could stretch the system a 
little further with some extra 
juice, so we re-entered the 
BIOS, bumped the voltage 
to 1.7V and raised the fre- 
quency 2MHz. The system 
loaded Windows, but when 
we clicked the 3DMark05 
icon, the PC froze, flashed 
our favorite blue screen, and 
then quit. We started again 
at 184MHz, but it froze 
while loading Windows. 
After that, the PC failed to load Windows 
even at stock settings. We tried the 
Windows Repair feature without any luck 
and then reinstalled our OS. Unfortunate- 
ly, the fresh OS didn't change the board's 
disposition: Although it ran fine at stock 
settings and at 1 80MHz, it froze at any set- 
ting we tried above that frequency. 

Final Word 

The KT880 Dragon's overclocking 
ability didn't knock us off our feet, but we 
like its scores and its extras package. 
Although the LANparty overclocked to 
2.22GHz, its performance was spotty, 
whereas the KT880 provided consis- 
tently solid scores. The SOYO board 
ceded the max PCMark04 score to the 
LANparty, but it lagged only 52 points 
behind. And although it didn't touch the 
K7N2's 3DMark05 score, the KT880's 
2383 creamed the LANParty's paltry 
1824. Overall, this is a strong board at 
stock settings and an OK overclocker to 
boot. For $97, that's not a bad deal. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 57 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Sempron 2800+ 

& DFI LANParty 

NFII Ultra B 



DFI targets its LANParty moth- 
erboards at gamers, particular- 
ly those who lug their rigs to 
and from LAN gaming events. Style as 
well as speed appeals to these users. 

Motherboard 

As soon as you pull the LANParty out 
of its oversized box, you'll see just how 
much attention DFI pays to style. DFI 
colored all of the slots and several connec- 
tors neon green (it also colored the bat- 
tery socket, a nice touch). The unified 
color scheme alone makes the board win- 
dow-worthy, and the box of UV-sensitive, 
rounded cables simply seals the deal. 

Of course, the extras package includes 
much more than a few rounded cables. 
The LANParty includes its own LANParty 
computer harness, complete with pockets 
for your keyboard and mouse. The harness 
also boasts a handle and shoulder strap. 
The harness is the most recognizable sym- 
bol of the LANParty, so we weren't too 



K7N2 Delta Platinum Edition carry price 
tags in the mid-$90s. 

The LANParty's onboard features 
include an NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 
and MCP-T chipset, four SATA ports 
(RAID 0, 1), two USB 2.0 internal con- 
nectors (four external), and three internal 
FireWire (400Mbps) connectors. The 
board also boasts Gigabit LAN and a 
Realtek ALC650 audio codec that offers 
6-channel sound and SPDIF via a slew of 
external ports in the I/O area. Overall, we 
like the motherboard's physical features 
and layout — our only complaint is that 
the CPU socket is at the very top of the 
board, near the I/O area, which means 
your heatsink may crowd your PSU. 

The board also includes a driver CD, a 
SATA driver floppy, and InterVideo's 
WinCinema DVD software. However, 
the best software is already on the board: 
CMOS Reloaded, which resides in the 
BIOS, lets you save up to four BIOS con- 
figurations. As a result, you can hang onto 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Sempron 2800+ 


Motherboard 


DFI LANParty NFII Ultra B 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award 


BIOS Version 


DFI N24LD728 


Chipset Driver 


NVIDIA 5.10 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax 
EG475AX-VE-SFMA 
Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



to make your motherboard and processor 
play nice. We don't have any complaints 
about the Web site's BIOS download 
information: DFI lists every BIOS revi- 
sion and provides brief explanations of 
the fixes that each update carries. We 
installed Phoenix Award DFI version 
N24LD728, which adds Sempron sup- 
port, and then loaded Windows. 

We ran our test system through its 
paces without changing any motherboard 



AMD Sempron 2800+ 
DFI LANParty NFII Ultra B 

Processor 

Speed FSB 

Stock 2GHz 166MHzv 
Performance 


Multiplier 

12 


Voltage 

1.6V 


PCMark04 

3299 


PCMark04 
CPU 

3300 


PCMark04 
Memory 

2260 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

3524 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4322 




Doom 3 

21.1fps 


3DMark05 

1815 


Overclocked 2.22GHz 
Performance 


185MHz 


12 


1.8V 


3679 


3687 


2507 


3526 


4354 


1824 


20.4fps 



surprised to see that DFI threw one into 
the box, but we didn't expect to also find 
the FrontX, a 5.25-inch front panel con- 
nector tray that houses headphone and mic 
ports; a FireWire port; two USB ports; and 
a system status LED panel. Interestingly 
enough, these connectors aren't built into 
the panel, which means you need only add 
the connectors you plan to use. The extra 
toys are great, but they're not free. The 
LANParty costs about $124, while both 
the SOYO KT880 Dragon 2 and the MSI 



your nonoverclocked settings and switch 
back to them at a moment's notice. If you 
share your computer with someone else, 
you'll find this feature handy. 

Overclock 

Although the LANParty doesn't recog- 
nize Sempron processors out of the box, it 
doesn't choke when you plug a Sempron 
into it, which means you can download a 
newer BIOS (via a separate computer, of 
course) and then load it onto your system 



settings — if you pulled the board out of 
the box and threw it into an identical sys- 
tem, these are the scores you might expect 
to see. We started with PCMark05, which 
produced a miserably low 1815, 536 
points lower than the second-place board, 
the KT880, and 640 points lower than the 
K7N2. At this point, we reinstalled the 
graphics driver (we used the same driver, 
the ATI Catalyst 4.1, on all of our AMD- 
based Case Studies systems) and ran the 
benchmarks again, only to receive a nearly 



58 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



identical score. Next, we ran the 
Doom 3 timedemo, which post- 
ed a low 21.1fps. 

Luckily, the LANParty woke 
up when we ran PCMark04. At 
3299, the board's PCMark04 
score still managed to take last 
place, but not by nearly as much 
as the board's other scores; its 
PCMark04 score was only 64 
points behind the KT880's 
default score. In fact, the LAN- 
Party snagged two of PCMark- 
04's top component scores with 
3300 in the CPU category and 
2260 in the Memory category. 
The 3524 PCMark04 Graphics 
score, which lagged behind the 
other board's scores by more 
than 680 points, raised the same 
concerns as the 3DMark05 and 
Doom 3 scores: The board has 
graphics problems. It's impor- 
tant to note that the video card 
isn't the culprit; we used this same video 
card to test all three boards (in the order 
they appear), as well as the other AMD- 
based mobos in Case Studies. 

Once we completed the benchmarks at 
stock settings, we jumped into the BIOS 
to see if any settings were holding back the 
graphics card and to overclock the system. 
We didn't find any unusual settings, but 
we found the overclocking section without 
any trouble. DFI puts all of its OC-related 
functions in the Genie BIOS Setting cate- 
gory, which is on the main page. This sec- 
tion has plenty of OC features and some 
of the widest ranges for settings that 
we've seen. The CPU Clock Setting range 
of 100MHz to 300MHz in 1MHz incre- 
ments is more than wide enough for 
Athlon XPs or Semprons, but what really 
caught our attention was the CPU voltage 
range. If you run your CPU voltage at 2V, 
you're a braver modder than we. 

We gave the LANParty a solid shove 
by bumping the frequency to 177MHz, 
but the board posted a measly 1808, seven 
points lower than its lackluster first show- 
ing. We responded by lowering the fre- 
quency to 173MHz, hoping for a score 
higher than 1815, but the test system post- 
ed 1782. We re-entered the BIOS, headed 




Southbridge 
(NVIDIA 
nForce2 MCP-T) 



BIOS 

SATA 
Connectors 



Audio Codec 



Northbridge 
(NVIDIA nForce2 
Ultra 400) 

ATX Power 
Connector 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




straight for the voltage, and then boosted it 
to 1.65V. We also returned the CPU fre- 
quency to 177MHz. This time, the system 
posted 1787 in 3DMark05, lower than our 
previous 177MHz score. 

Despite our system's dwindling scores, 
we weren't ready to throw in the towel. 
We raised the frequency to 178MHz and 
kicked the voltage up 0.1 to 1.75V. This 
time, the 3DMark05 score broke its 
baseline (if only by four points) and 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



SOYO KT880 Dragon 2 


Stock Performance 


2351 




Overclocked Performance 


2383 






• DFI LANParty NFII Ultra B 




■ 


Stock Performance 


1815 




Overclocked Performance 


1824 






MSI K7N2 Delta2 Platinum Edition 


■ 


Stock Performance 


2455 




Overclocked Performance 


2529 





PCMark04 improved to 3515. 
Next, we bumped the frequency 
to 180MHz and pushed the 
voltage to an even 1.8V. Al- 
though the 3DMark05 score 
rolled in at a disheartening 
1808, the PCMark04 score 
jumped to 3576; a 61-point 
increase. We were reluctant to 
up the voltage much beyond 
1.8V, so we boosted the fre- 
quency again. 

At 185MHz (2.22GHz), the 
system posted 1824 in 3D- 
Mark05 and 3679 in PCMark- 
04, which beat out the Soyo 
KT880 by 52 points. As at 
stock settings, the LANParty 
hung onto its PCMark04 CPU 
and Memory component top 
scores, but it didn't pull in 
either of the other two com- 
ponent scores. Sadly, the LAN- 
Party's Doom 3 frame rate 
actually dropped from 21.1 to 20.4fps. 

Although the PC loaded windows with- 
out trouble at higher settings, we couldn't 
find stable settings above 185MHz. The 
system even completed PCMark04 at 
187MHz (scoring a 3713), but it froze 
when we ran Doom 3. At 190MHz, the 
system posted 1820 in 3DMark04 and 
then froze during PCMark04. 

Final Word 

The LANParty didn't quite turn out to 
be the gaming wonder we expected, but it's 
not a slouch, either. It overclocked higher 
than any other board in this roundup, and 
it produced the best PCMark04 score at 
OC'd settings. If you're interested only in 
overclocking your PC, you'll probably want 
a board that can keep up with your graph- 
ics card in 3D benchmarks, but if you're a 
gamer, whether you like the LANParty 
depends on your LAN style. If you like to 
show off the mobo's goodies, such as the 
PC carry case and front-panel media reader, 
you'll like this board's extras package more 
than any other we've seen. But if every fps 
counts, or if you're building on a budget, 
you'll want to look elsewhere. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 59 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Sempron 2800+ 

& MSI K7N2 Delta2 

Platinum Edition 



After watching the DFI LAN- 
Party NFII Ultra B's erratic per- 
formance, we turned to MSI. As 
with many other manufacturers, MSI 
often offers several similar versions of a 
board. We chose one of MSI's newest 
socket A boards, the feature-laden K7N2 
Delta2 Platinum Edition. 

Motherboard 

NVIDIA is already touting its SLI- 
friendly nForce 4 chip, but the nForce2 
is still running strong on some very cool 
socket A boards. The K7N2 Delta2 
Platinum Edition, which boasts an 
nForce2 Ultra 400 and MCP chipset, has 
a solid feature set that includes Gigabit 
LAN and two SATA ports. MSI installed 
a sizeable aluminum heatsink/fan combo, 
which means you'll have the board holes 
and power connector to install your own 



lone serial port just begging for a port — 
but we like the other ports that make up 
the I/O area, particularly the SPDIF 
ports. We also like the LAN port, which 
has status LEDs. 

As far as MSI's concerned, black is the 
new red for motherboard PCBs. We've 
seen several black MSI boards now, and 
although we liked being able to identify 
an MSI board as soon as we peered into 
a chassis window, we're not complaining 
about the sleek black look. However, 
MSI doesn't get caught up in the board 
decorating frenzy that grips some manu- 
facturers; it uses a rainbow of colors to 
mark various components, such as the 
dual-channel memory banks (purple and 
green) and the fifth PCI slot (orange), 
which doubles as a standard PCI slot and 
as a special connector for MSI's optional 
wireless card. 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Sempron 2800+ 


Motherboard 


MSI K7N2 Delta2 
Platinum Edition 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award 


BIOS Version 


MSIB4 


Chipset Driver 


NVIDIA 5.03 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL 
Dual Channel Series Gold 
Edition 184-pin DDR PC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax 
EG475AX-VE-SFMA 
Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



CoreCenter on other boards), we like the 
programs because they let you switch 
between mildly overclocked and stock 
settings without rebooting Windows. 
That's a great way to keep your system 
cool when you're not gaming or perform- 
ing CPU-intensive tasks. 

Overclock 

You'll need to update your BIOS to 
get the best performance from your 



AMD Sempron 2800+ 


















MSI K7N2 Delta2 Platinum Edition 


















Processor 






PCMark04 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 


^^^^^H 




Speed FSB Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


CPU 


Memory 


Graphics 


HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 2GHz 2GHz 12 


1.6V 


3401 


3268 


2201 


4204 


4570 


2455 


22.3fps 


Performance 


















Overclocked 2.06GHz 2.06GHz 12 


1.7V 


3433 


3285 


2218 


4204 


4561 


2529 


22.3fps 


Performance 



















heatsink if that tickles your modding 
fancy. Personally, we say leave it the way 
it is — the fan is quiet and the heatsink 
offers more surface area than most chip- 
set heatsinks. 

The board also has four external USB 
2.0 ports and two internal connectors, 
and (thanks to a VIA VT6306) three 
internal Fire Wire (400Mbps) connectors. 
We're a little disappointed that the I/O 
area doesn't have an external Fire Wire 
port — there's an empty hole below the 



The K7N2 has a great extras package 
that includes a couple of Fire Wire expan- 
sion modules and a SATA driver disc. 
Although you probably won't use most 
of the CD's outdated drivers (you can 
download new versions of everything 
from chipset to audio drivers from MSI's 
Web site), you'll want to install the 
CoreCenter, a Windows-based over- 
clocking software. Although we haven't 
had much luck really pushing systems 
with overclocking software (including 



Sempron processor. Unlike some manu- 
facturers, however, MSI doesn't provide 
links directly from a board's Web page 
to the appropriate drivers. Instead you'll 
need to click the Download Center link 
(on the left side of the board's page) and 
choose between Latest BIOS Download 
or Latest Drivers Download. Once you 
reach the BIOS Download section, 
you'll need to select your board from a 
long list. This is a minor gripe, but if 
you install the wrong update, you'll have 



60 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



BIOS 



a major problem, and thanks to 
the 10 (really) different K7N2 
boards in the list, snagging the 
wrong one is easy to do. 

Now that we're off our soap- 
box, we'll get down to business. 
We found the appropriate driver 
(Phoenix Award MSI version 
B4), installed it, and then in- 
stalled Windows. Next, we ran 
our benchmarks without chang- 
ing the board's default settings. 
The K7N2 showed its muscle 
right away, taking a 104-point 
lead over the SOYO KT880 
Dragon 2 (and simply smacking 
the DFI LANParty NFII Ultra 
B) with its score of 2455. The 
board also made a strong show- 
ing in Doom 3, landing only 
O.lfps shy of the Soyo KT880's 
22.4fps, and in PCMark04. 

Although the board took home 

only one of the top PCMark04 
components scores (the 4570 HDD score), 
its overall score of 3401 beat out the other 
boards. When we looked at the other 
PCMark04 component categories, we 
found that the K7N2 took second place in 
every section, missing the top Graphics 
score by as little as one point. Overclockers 
and stock settings die-hards alike should 
take note — the K7N2 is clearly an excel- 
lent choice at default settings. 

Armed with solid scores, we entered 
the BIOS and headed for the H/W 
Monitor section. We disabled all of the 
automatic fan control features (after all, 
we wanted our Tornado running at top 
speed) and then popped into the PC 
Health Status subsection to make sure it 
wasn't displaying any outrageous temps. 
Next, we returned to the main page and 
opened the Cell Menu, MSI's overclock- 
ing area. The Cell Menu includes stan- 
dard overclocking settings, and it also 
includes Dynamic Overclocking. If you 
don't want to mess with individual set- 
tings yourself, you can choose from 
Dynamic Overclocking's six options, 
each of which raises the CPU frequen- 
cy. We tried this feature, but the PC 
refused to boot at any setting, even 
Private (Dynamic Overclocking uses 




Southbridge 
(NVIDIA 

SATA 
Connectors 



ATX Power 
Connector 



Northbridge (NVIDIA 
nForce2 Ultra 400) 



Audio Codec 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




military labels), which overclocks the 
CPU by 1%. 

Next, we overclocked the old-fash- 
ioned way. To raise the frequency, we 
first had to switch the High Performance 
Mode field from Optimized to Manual, 
which switched the Adjust CPU FSB 
Frequency field's options from just 
five frequencies to a range of 100MHz 
to 300MHz in 1MHz increments. We 
disabled the AGP and FSB Spread 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



SOYO KT880 Dragon 2 


Stock Performance 


2351 




Overclocked Performance 


2383 






DFI LANParty NFII Ultra B 




H 


Stock Performance 


1815 




Overclocked Performance 


1824 






• MSI K7N2 Delta2 Platinum Edition 


■ 


Stock Performance 


2455 




Overclocked Performance 


2529 





Spectrum fields before we 
rebooted the system. 

After seeing such great stock 
scores, we didn't expect to have 
any trouble, but this board was 
one of the most unwilling over- 
clockers we've seen. We started 
our overclocking spree by raising 
the CPU frequency to 177MHz 
without adjusting the voltage, so 
we weren't too surprised to see 
that the K7N2 couldn't load 
Windows. However, we started 
to worry when our system 
crashed out of (or refused to 
load) Windows time after time at 
frequency after frequency. The 
system finally loaded Windows 
at 170MHz with a 1.7V Vcore 
(the voltage setting ranges from 
1.5V to 2.3V), but it froze dur- 
ing 3DMark05. The PC also 
^^^ loaded Windows at 174MHz 
but crashed out of 3DMark05. 
Higher voltages didn't help — the system 
simply couldn't stay stable for more than 
about 30 seconds of 3DMark05. 

In the end, we couldn't push our 
Sempron 2800+ beyond a mere 172MHz 
(2.06GHz) with a 1.8GHz Vcore. At that 
speed, the K7N2 system scored only 3433 
in PCMark04, but it did hang onto the 
PCMark04 HDD crown with an HDD 
score of 4561. Surprisingly enough, the sys- 
tem took top honors in 3DMark05, lead- 
ing the KT880 board by 146 points with a 
score of 2529. It also tied the SOYO board 
in Doom 3 at 22.3fps. 

Final Word 

Although the K7N2 didn't overclock 
well and posted a paltry 32-point increase 
in PCMark04, it posted the largest 3D- 
Mark05 increase of the three boards. In 
fact, the 74-point increase more than dou- 
bled the KT880's stock/overclock differ- 
ence. Unless you're really gunning for a 
challenge, you probably won't enjoy over- 
clocking the K7N2 board with a Sempron 
processor, but if you're building a stock 
settings system, this motherboard will make 
a solid foundation. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 61 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Sempron 3100+ 
& EPoX EP-8KDA3+ 



Although we've seen the AMD 
Athlon 64 processor series jump 
from the socket 754 boards to 
socket 939 boards, we haven't seen any 
socket A processors jump to a new socket 
until now. The Sempron, a value-line that 
simultaneously replaces the Athlon XP 
and Duron processors, includes both 
socket A processors and socket 754 
processors. We ordered a shiny, new 754- 
pin Sempron 3100+ to see if it's a CPU 
worthy of CPU. 

Motherboard 

If you're sick of brightly colored boards 
and flashing LED chip fans, the EP- 
8KDA3+ might be just the board for you. 
The traditional green PCB won't blind 
anyone, and the tiny (and fanless) chip 
heatsink won't catch anyone's attention. 
In fact, the board's only light is totally 
utilitarian: a POST Port LED, which is 
nestled between the IDE connectors and 
BIOS chip, displays system status and 
troubleshooting codes that correspond to 
a list of codes in the manual. 

Although the POST LED isn't a new 
feature by any means, you'll see as soon as 



of common problems, you can browse a 
list in the manual's appendix that includes 
dozens of codes and descriptions. Most of 
these codes refer to the system's status, 
rather than problems, so you won't find 
many problem fixes here, but the descrip- 
tions explain each POST step better than 
most manuals. 

The EP-8KDA3+ boasts NVIDIA's sin- 
gle-chip nForce3 250Gb, which handles 
both northbridge and southbridge func- 
tions. We're not surprised to see that EPoX 
didn't put a fan on the chip — a plain old 
heatsink is standard fare for nForce3-based 
mobos. What EPoX didn't put into fancy 
components or media card readers, it put 
into its SATA ports. Thanks to the 
nForce3's SATA support and a Silicon 
Image Sil31l4 controller, the board has 
not four but six SATA connectors. The SI 
chip alone handles four connectors and 
supports RAID 0, 1,5, and 10. 

The board doesn't have a third IDE 
port for RAID, but it has plenty of other 
worthwhile components, including six PCI 
slots, eight USB 2.0 ports (two internal 
connectors that each support two ports 
and four external ports), and a RealTek 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Sempron 3100+ 


Motherboard 


EPoX EP-8KDA3+ 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award 


BIOS Version 


EPoX kda34a22 


Chipset Driver 


NVIDIA 5.03 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX- 
VE-SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



cables, which are long enough to reach 
any drive bay in our midsized tower. 

Overclock 

Once we updated the BIOS (Phoenix 
Award, EPoX version kda34a22), we 
jumped into the PowerBIOS Features sec- 
tion to take a quick look at the board's 
overclocking features. The section has 
CPU frequency, voltage, and multiplier 
fields, along with fields that let you adjust 
memory, AGP, and chipset voltage. Oddly 
enough, the PowerBIOS Features section 



AMD Sempron 310C 
EPoX EP-8KDA3+ 

Processor 
Speed 

Stock 1 .8GHz 
Performance 

Overclocked 2.32GHz 
Performance 


>+ 






PCMark04 PCMark04 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

4209 

4169 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4518 

4495 


3DMark05 

2471 

2511 






FSB 

200MHz 

258MHz 


Multiplier Voltage 

9 1.4V 

9 1.6V 


PCMark04 

3588 

4503 


CPU Memory 

3363 3113 

4316 3997 


Doom 3 

22.9fps 

23.3fps 





you open the manual that EPoX takes the 
device more seriously than many other 
mobo manufacturers. The manual's third 
page has a list of the five most common 
troubleshooting codes, including BIOS, 
memory, and overclocking problems. 
Unlike many similar POST code guides, 
this one-page cheat sheet not only identi- 
fies the problem, it suggests fixes. If you 
see a code that doesn't appear in the list 



ALC850 audio codec that offers eight 
channels and SPDIF ports. Oddly enough, 
the board doesn't have any Fire Wire ports. 
As for its extras package, the EP- 
8KDA3+ doesn't break any new ground, 
but it covers the basics (SATA cables, 
SATA PSU adapters, a USB port expan- 
sion module, and even a game port expan- 
sion module). The best part of the extras 
package are the two purple rounded IDE 



was already overclocking our processor. 
The multiplier was set at xlO (instead of 
the default x9), the CPU frequency was 
set to 209MHz (instead of 200MHz), and 
the CPU voltage was set to 1.55V (instead 
of 1.4V). We returned the CPU frequency 
and multiplier to the CPU's default set- 
tings and then entered the CPU Voltage 
section, only to find that 1.55V is the 
field's lowest setting. 



62 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



We also noticed that the 
only other voltage settings are 
1.6V, 1.65V, and 1.7V. Over- 
clockers will be glad to see the 
reasonably high max voltage 
setting, but we're disappointed 
that you have so few voltages 
from which to choose. We're 
also a little concerned about 
the large voltage steps — some- 
times you really need only an 
extra .025V to stabilize an 
overclocked system. However, 
when we installed Windows 
and opened CPU-Z, a pro- 
gram that offers system status 
information, it displayed a 
CPU voltage of only 1.38 V 

The CPU Overclock In 
MHz field lets you choose 
between 200 and 400MHz. 
Unlike most motherboards, 
which either reboot or require 
you to clear the CMOS when 
they crash, the EP-8KDA3+ recovers 
(reverts to default BIOS settings) from 
crashes when you press the INSERT key. 

At 200MHz and with a multiplier of 
x9 (1.8GHz) and a CPU voltage of 1.4V, 
our test system absolutely tore into 
PCMark04, producing a 3588 overall 
score that bested both of the other two 
boards in this roundup: the SOYO SY- 
K8USA Dragon Black Label and the 
ASUS K8V SE Deluxe. That said, all 
three boards posted scores within 100 
points of each other, so we couldn't pick a 
clear stock-settings winner right away. 
And the race stayed close when we ran 
3DMark05 and Doom 3. The EP- 
8KDA3+ eked out a 25-point lead over 
the ASUS board with 2471, but SOYO's 
SY-K8USA Dragon took the center stage 
when it scored an eye-popping 27.1fps, 
well above the other boards' tie 22.9fps 
frame rate and higher than Athlon 64 
3800+ and Athlon 64 FX-53's frame rate. 

We rebooted our system, dived back 
into the BIOS' PowerBIOS Features sec- 
tion, and started by raising the CPU fre- 
quency 10MHz to 210MHz. The board 
responded right away, producing better 
scores in PCMark04 and 3DMark05, 
but it posted the same Doom 3 frame 




BIOS 

Audio Codec 

NVIDIA 
nForce3 250Gb 



ATX Power 
Connector 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 



SATA 
Connectors 




rate. When we raised the frequency to 
215Mhz, the Doom 3 frame rate in- 
creased O.lfps — the frame rate jumped 
another O.lfps when we reached 230MHz. 
The board had already surpassed the other 
boards' highest clock speeds, and it was 
starting to show signs that it was reaching 
the end of its rope — although its 
PCMark04 scores continued to increase, 
its 3DMark05 score hadn't budged from 
its 225MHz score of 2498 and didn't 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark03 



* EPoX EP-8KDA3+ 


Stock Performance 


2471 




Overclocked Performance 


2511 






SOYO SY-K8USA Dragon Black Label 


■ 


Stock Performance 


2296 




Overclocked Performance 


2310 






ASUS K8V SE Deluxe 


Stock Performance 


2446 




Overclocked Performance 


2479 





change when we bumped the 
frequency to 235MHz. 

As it turned out, the stuck 
3DMark05 score wasn't a sign 

8 of impending doom. At 

240MHz (note that we still 
hadn't touched the voltage 
yet), our test system snapped 
out of its rut, posting 2504 in 
3DMark05. That's not much 
of a jump, but after seeing the 
same score three times in a 
row, we weren't complaining. 
However, when we boosted the 
frequency to 245MHz, the sys- 
tem posted 2502, two points 
lower than our top score. We 
raised the voltage for the first 
time to 1.6V, bumped the fre- 
quency to 250MHz, and ran 
the benchmarks again. This 
time, the system posted 2503 
in 3DMark05 and 4390 in 
PCMark04. We liked the 
PCMark04 score, but we wanted to raise 
the 3DMark05 score, so we raised the fre- 
quency to 260MHz. The system rebooted 
during POST, so we backed it down to 
258MHz and tried again. Sure enough, 
our test system scored 251 1 in 3DMark05 
and a whopping 4503 in PCMark04, 
soundly trouncing the other boards. It also 
posted a respectable (for this roundup) 
23.3fps in Doom 3. As it turned out, the 
system couldn't top 258MHz (2.32GHz); 
it crashed during POST even at 259MHz 
and crashed again when we tried higher 
frequencies and increased the voltage. 

Final Word 

If you're shopping for a super-stable 
board that can take your 754-pin proces- 
sor to new heights, you're looking for the 
EPoX EP-8KDA3+. The motherboard 
beat out the K8V SE Deluxe, its closest 
competitor, by 32 points in 3DMark05 
and by a remarkable 621 points in 
PCMark04. It didn't catch the SY- 
K8USA Dragon's abnormal Doom 3 
score, but we'd take the consistently bet- 
ter performing EP-8KDA3+ over the 
SOYO board any day. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 63 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Sempron 3100+ & 
SOYO SY-K8USA Dragon 
Ultra Black Label 



We almost tossed the SY- 
K8USA Dragon out of our 
lineup when we learned that 
SOYO Taiwan intends to disband its 
motherboard manufacturing component, 
but as it turns out, you'll see new SOYO 
boards in our PC Modder issues for years 
to come — the U.S. SOYO Group contin- 
ues to manufacture motherboards, includ- 
ing the SY-K8USA Dragon, which means 
you can forget any concerns about vanish- 
ing product support or updates. 

Motherboard 

Thanks to its dark board and purple 
slots and connectors, the SY-K8USA is as 
much decoration as it is necessary compo- 
nent. The board boasts three IDE connec- 
tors, one of which supports RAID, and it 
has two internal Fire Wire connectors (the 
I/O area also sports an external FireWire 
port). However, the SY-K8USA has only 
two SATA connectors. After seeing the 
ASUS K8V SE Deluxe's four connectors 
and the EPoX EP-8KDA3+'s six, we were 



Luckily, it's not all bad news: The SY- 
K8USA sports a Gigabit LAN port, 
thanks to a VIA VT6120 controller, and 
it has a nice extras package. The kit 
includes two SATA cables, some free, if 
old, software (Symantec Norton Anti- 
Virus, Ghost, and Personal Firewall, all 
version 2003) and a two-port FireWire 
expansion module. If your chassis has a 
front panel FireWire connector, you'll use 
one of those internal ports when you 
attach it to the mobo, but you can attach 
either of the expansion module's FireWire 
ports to add an extra port to your PC. 

The SY-K8USA's best extra is its SB- 
BOX31B media card reader. It supports 
SD, MMC, CF, SM, Sony Memory Stick, 
and Microdrive cards. It also has a USB 
2.0 port. The device fits into your 3.5-inch 
bay, but if you're short on small bays, you 
can attach the included extension bracket 
that turns the SB-BOX31B into a 5.25- 
inch device. This device is a great extra fea- 
ture, but it highlights the SY-K8USA's 
need for a second internal USB connector. 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Sempron 3100+ 


Motherboard 


SOYO SY-K8USA Dragon 
Ultra Black Label 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award 


BIOS Version 


SOYO 2aa4 


Chipset Driver 


ALi 2.05 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDR PC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX- 
VE-SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



recognized our Sempron processor. As 
with other motherboards, you can down- 
load the latest BIOS and driver updates 
and motherboard utilities from SOYO's 
Web site, but unlike most manufacturer 
Web sites, SOYO's download section 
is a little confusing. When we clicked 
Download on the main page, a search 
page asked us to select first the mother- 
board type and then the model number. 
Unfortunately, the first step doesn't list 
K8 AMD boards, which means you'll 
need to select All Motherboards and then 



AMD Sempron 3100+ 

SOYO SY-K8USA Dragon Ultra Black Label 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 


Processor 
Speed 

1.8GHz 

1.85GHz 



FSB 

200MHz 



205MHz 



Multiplier Voltage PCMark04 

9 1 ,4V 3494 

9 1.4V 3572 


PCMark04 PCMark04 
CPU Memory 

3359 2931 

3440 3020 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

3954 

3962 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4075 

4081 


3DMark05 

2296 

2310 


Doom 3 

27.1fps 

27.4fps 



a little disappointed to see that SOYO 
didn't go the extra mile on its board. 

With the SY-K8USA Dragon, SOYO 
drops the NVIDIA nForce3 and VIA 
K8T800 in favor of ALi's Ml 687 north- 
bridge and Ml 563 southbridge. Unfor- 
tunately, the Ml 563 supports only six USB 
2.0 ports, two fewer than the K8V SE 
offers. The I/O area houses four ports and 
an internal connector supports two more. 



If you plug the SB-BOX31B into the 
motherboard's single internal connector, 
you'll have only the card reader's USB 
port, and your chassis' front-panel USB 
ports won't function (as they can't connect 
to the board). 

Overclock 

We updated the Phoenix Award BIOS 
to SOYO version 2aa4 so the motherboard 



wade through a massive list to find the 
SY-K8USA Dragon. Once you find it, 
however, you can browse a well-organized 
list of updates. We updated the BIOS, 
installed Windows, and then loaded the 
appropriate drivers. 

We kicked off our overclocking spree 
by not overclocking at all — we ran our 
new test system, complete with Sempron 
3100+ processor and SY-K8USA Dragon, 



64 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



through our benchmark suite. 
We use these default-settings 
scores to determine just how 
much difference the over- 
clocked settings make. We've 
run across boards that OC the 
CPU very well but then don't 
produce benchmarks as high 
as other boards that couldn't 
push the processor to such 
high speeds. We like CPU 
clock speed bragging rights as 
much as anyone, but we can't 
ignore benchmark scores — 
speed doesn't matter if it 
doesn't equate to performance. 
The SY-K8USA Dragon 
didn't perform poorly at stock 
settings, but it certainly didn't 
impress us when it posted 
its 3DMark05 score. With a 
score of 3494, it lagged 94 
points behind the EPoX EP- 
8KDA3+ and 50 points behind 
the ASUS K8V SE Deluxe. The board 
strengthened its image a little when it beat 
out the ASUS board in PCMark04, land- 
ing just four points shy of the EPoX 
board even though it ceded the top 
PCMark04 component scores to both 
EPoX and ASUS. But it really shined 
when we ran the Doom 3 timedemo. Our 
collective jaw dropped when we saw the 
27-lfps Doom 3 frame rate, which out- 
performed our other boards by 4.2fps. 
Although we regularly see disparate 
3DMark05 and PCMark04 scores when 
we review multiple boards, we rarely see 
such large Doom 3 frame rate differences. 
We're especially surprised to see that the 
board that took third place in the 
3DMark05, which focuses on graphics 
performance, so soundly trounced the 
other boards. We double-checked our 
Doom 3 settings, rebooted the PC and 
tried again twice, only to see the same 
frame rate. The score is real, and although 
we pay few compliments to the SY- 
K8USA in the remainder of this article, we 
didn't forget (and neither should gamers) 
that this motherboard grabbed the Doom 
3 crown in our AMD roundups (including 
the Athlon 64 3800+ and Athlon 64 FX- 
53 roundups) and didn't let go. 




SATA 
Connectors 



Southbridge 
(ALi Ml 563) 



Audio Codec 



ATX Power 
Connector 



Northbridge 
(ALi M 1 687) 

Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




Next, we hit the BIOS again. If nothing 
else, the SY-K8USA is an ambitious board. 
When we popped into the Phoenix Award 
BIOS' SOYO Combo Feature section, we 
noticed that all of the fields have high max 
settings. Even the CPU Vcore Select field 
lets users push the voltage to a reasonably 
high 1.7V. After we ran the benchmarks at 
standard settings, we disabled the Spread 
Spectrum feature, which can cause instabil- 
ity during overclocking when enabled. 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



EPoX EP-8KDA3+ 


Stock Performance 


2471 




Overclocked Performance 


2511 






• SOYO SY-K8USA Dragon Black Label 


■ 


Stock Performance 


2296 




Overclocked Performance 


2310 






ASUS K8V SE Deluxe 


Stock Performance 


2446 




Overclocked Performance 


2479 





Should you want to ad- 
just your memory's settings, 
you can enter this section's 
Advanced Tune-Up Settings 
field, which lets you adjust the 
frequency and latency settings. 
We didn't change the memory 
timings but we're glad to see 
that it's there — the more op- 
tions a user has, the better. We 
jumped into the PC Health 
Status section to make sure our 
system was in good shape. The 
section displays several systems 
stats, including voltages, fan 
speeds, and temps. 

The SY-K8USA Dragon 
posted solid increases when we 
raised the CPU frequency to 
205MHz (1.85GHz). Its PC- 
Mark04 component scores still 
failed to take top honors, but 
its overall PCMark04 posted a 
decent 78-point increase. The 
board also increased its 3DMark05 score 
to 2310, a 14-point increase, but its most 
dramatic increase was a 4.2fps jump to 
27.1fps in Doom 3. The other two boards 
failed to boost their frame rates even lfps. 
Our excitement about the huge Doom 
3 jump lasted only until we boosted the 
frequency again, at which point we imme- 
diately hit a dead end. At 208MHz, the 
system crashed before Windows loaded. 
We raised the voltage to 1.45V and the 
frequency to 206MHz and tried again, 
but it crashed again during POST. We 
raised the frequency and voltage several 
times, but the system never successfully 
loaded Windows at higher settings. 

Final Word 

We were disappointed to see the board 
stumble during overclocking, but we liked 
that Doom 3 score and its OC increase. 
Avid gamers should pay attention to the 
nice frame rates, but if you want to really 
push your CPU, consider the EPoX EP- 
8KDA3+. And if you're pinching pennies, 
forget it: The SY-K8USA Dragon costs 
$158, blowing past the $110 EP-8KDA3+ 
and the $1 16 K8VSE Deluxe. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 65 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Sempron 3100+ 
& ASUS K8V SE Deluxe 



We wrapped up our socket 
754 roundup with the 
ASUS K8V SE Deluxe. 
After watching the SOYO SY-K8USA 
Dragon's roller-coaster performance and 
the EPoX EP-8KDA3 + 's consistently 
solid showing, we weren't sure what to 
expect from ASUS' socket 754 offering. 

Motherboard 

ASUS is one of the mobo manufactur- 
ers that hasn't jumped onto the glitzy 
board design bandwagon. As with the rest 
of ASUS' lineup, the K8V SE has a mod- 
est, dark green board and colors that 
denote certain mobo components, rather 
than create a slick color scheme. But 
ASUS didn't build the K8V SE with beau- 
ty pageants in mind; it focused on putting 
together a feature-laden board and a solid 
manual, and it succeeded on both counts. 

As with its VIA/AMD Athlon 64-based 
brethren, the board includes the VT8237 
southbridge, which handles the board's 
two standard IDE ports and two of the 
SATA ports (a Promise controller handles 
the RAID IDE port and the other two 



dual-channel), which support up to 3GB 
of PC3200 DDR memory. Although the 
slots stand near the CPU socket, they 
aren't close enough to cause trouble. 

Although ASUS isn't known for its soft- 
ware packages, we're not disappointed with 
the free copy of InterVideo's WinDVD 
Suite. That said, the board's most worth- 
while programs are ASUS' BIOS add-ons, 
such as CPR (CPU Parameter Recall), 
CrashFree BIOS 2, and Q-Fan. We like 
CrashFree BIOS 2 because it lets you rein- 
stall over a bad BIOS right from the driver. 
We also like CPR, which let us re-enter the 
BIOS after system crashes without physi- 
cally clearing the CMOS. It can't heal all 
wounds, though. If you toast Windows (as 
we did), you're on your own. 

Overclock 

We found the latest BIOS (American 
Megatrends, ASUS version 004) easily 
enough, thanks to ASUS' well-organized 
Web site, but we noticed that once we 
downloaded the BIOS file from the Web 
site, we had to change the file's extension 
to ROM. ASUS replaces ROM with the 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Sempron 3100+ 


Motherboard 


ASUS K8V SE Deluxe 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


American Megatrends 


BIOS Version 


ASUS 004 


Chipset Driver 


VIA 4.49 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 
9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX- 
VE-SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



which automatically transfers the appro- 
priate SATA drivers to a floppy. 

The K8V SE Deluxe performed well at 
stock settings, but it couldn't quite top the 
EP-8KDA3+, which burst out of the gate 
with excellent scores. We ran 3DMark05 
first, which tests the system's graphics 
capabilities. Although the PC's video card 
greatly impacts this benchmark's score, 
other components, including the mother- 
board, also affect the tally. Our three 
boards clearly show how these various other 



AMD Sempron 3100+ 




















ASUS K8V SE Deluxe 




















Processor 








PCMark04 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 






Speed FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


CPU 


Memory 


Graphics 


HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 1 .8GHz 200MHz 


9 


1.4V 


3544 


3321 


3107 


4213 


4512 


2446 


22.9fps 


Performance 




















Overclocked 2.01GHz 223MHz 


9 


1.675V 


3882 


3666 


3481 


4210 


4511 


2479 


23.3fps 


Performance 





















SATA connectors). The K8V SE also has 
a K8T800 northbridge (the socket 939 
boards have the Pro version). 

The K8V SE Deluxe scores points with 
its Gigabit LAN and two FireWire 
(400Mbps) connectors (one internal con- 
nector, one external port), but we're sur- 
prised to see that it has only a 6-channel 
audio codec. The board has three memo- 
ry sockets (no need for four as it's not 



latest version number. For example, we 
downloaded K8VSEDX.004 and then 
renamed the file K8VSEDX.ROM. 

So why update the BIOS? Semprons 
are new, so you'll want to install a BIOS 
that recognizes the latest CPUs. So far, 
the K8V SE's BIOS updates have carried 
only new CPU info — they haven't includ- 
ed (nor needed to include) any bug fixes. 
We also like the CD's MAKEDISK utility, 



components affect system scores: While 
the K8V SE Deluxe's score of 2446 lagged 
behind the EPoX board's score by only 25 
points, the SY-K8USA Dragon's score 
rolled in at 150 points lower than the K8V 
SE Deluxe. The ASUS board also lost to 
the EP-8KDA3+ when we ran PCMark04, 
but again, it didn't lose by much: only 44 
points. In fact, the K8V SE Deluxe beat 
out the EP-8KDA3+ in the PCMark04 



66 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Graphics component score, if 
only by four points. The K8V 
SE Deluxe further tightened 
the benchmark gap by tying the 
EPoX board in Doom 3 at 
22.9fps. Oddly enough, the 
SOYO board quit wallowing at 
the bottom of the pack and 
jumped to a surprising lead 
with 27.1fps. 

Next, we entered the BIOS 
and then skipped over to the 
Power category, which houses 
the Hardware Monitor sec- 
tion. Hardware Monitor dis- 
plays fan speeds and system 
temps and houses the Q-Fan 
Control setting. You'll need to 
enable this setting before you 
can use the Windows-based 
portion of the Q-Fan software 
to control your fan speeds. 

The overclocking section is 
called JumperFree Configura- 
tion (in the Advanced Category). Thanks 
to CPR, you'll probably never touch the 
CMOS jumper, but it's on the board, so 
don't ignore it if your system is in serious 
trouble. When we enabled the CPU Speed 
Voltage Setting field, the CPU Voltage 
field (0.8V to 1.75V in 0.25MHz incre- 
ments) appeared. We left this setting at 
1.4V and instead bumped the CPU FSB 
Frequency field from 200 to 205MHz, at 
which point the board posted reasonably 
better scores in both 3DMark05 (2454) 
and PCMark04 (3614). 

We worried a little when the K8V SE 
Deluxe posted a mere three-point increase 
at 210MHz, but we decided not to increase 
the voltage when we saw the 3699 
PCMark04 score and the 23.2fps Doom 3 
frame rate. The 3DMark05 score increased 
another five points when we raised the CPU 
frequency to 215MHz and then made an 
eight-point jump when we hit 220MHz, 
still without raising the voltage from 1.4V. 
At 225MHz, the board posted another 
small 3DMark05, but it finally snapped 
when we hit 230MHz. The system crashed 
during POST and wouldn't even boot at 
229MHz— luckily, CPR kicked in, letting 
us back into the BIOS. We backed the sys- 
tem down 1MHz at a time all the way to 




Audio 
Codec 

SATA 
Connectors 



Northbridge 
(VIA K8T800) 



Southbridge 
(VIA VT8237) 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 



ATX Power 
Connector 




225MHz without successfully loading 
Windows. We manually cleared the CMOS 
and then started the system at stock settings, 
but it still couldn't load Windows, so we 
used the operating system's repair feature, 
which also didn't help. 

Finally, we reinstalled Windows from 
scratch, which did the trick. The system post- 
ed similar baseline 3DMark05 (2449), 
PCMark04 (3520), and Doom 3 (23.1fps) 
scores, so we dived back into the BIOS and 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



EPoX EP-8KDA3+ 


Stock Performance 


2471 




Overclocked Performance 


2511 






SOYO SY-K8USA Dragon Black Label 


■ 


Stock Performance 


2296 




Overclocked Performance 


2310 






• ASUS K8V SE Deluxe 


Stock Performance 


2446 




Overclocked Performance 


2479 





headed straight for the CPU volt- 
age. We bumped the voltage to 
1.45V and then changed the 
CPU frequency to 220MHz. 
The system seemed to like the 
extra voltage: It scored 2480 in 
3DMark05 (10 points higher 
than it posted at 220MHz before 
we reinstalled Windows). 

When we inched the CPU 
frequency to 223MHz, the sys- 
tem posted a 3DMark05 score 
of 2474, six points lower than 
our last score. We bumped the 
frequency to 1.575V, but the 
large voltage jump didn't help 
much at all — it raised our score 
a mere four points. But when 
we bumped the voltage to 
1.675V, our system scored 2479 
in 3DMark05 and 3882 in 
PCMark04. 

As it turned out, the board 

never posted decent scores at 
settings beyond 223MHz (2.01GHz) with 
1.675V. It posted a lower score at 
225MHz and then finally crashed before 
loading Windows at 228MHz with a 1.7V 
Vcore. At this point, the board refused to 
load Windows even at stock settings. 

Final Word 

Although the K8V SE Deluxe provided 
a better overclock than the SY-K8USA 
Dragon and outperformed the SOYO 
board in most benchmarks, we can't rec- 
ommend this board to overclockers. It's a 
solid board at stock settings, but if you turn 
up the heat, you might burn Windows. 

These three boards turn the of you- 
get-what-you-pay-for theory on its head: 
The $110 EPoX EP-8KDA3+ creamed 
the $116 K8V SE and $158 SY-K8USA 
Dragon. Sure, K8V SE Deluxe stayed in 
the ring when we ran Doom 3 and 
PCMark05, but the EP-8KDA3+ took 
first place in PCMark04 by 621 points — 
cool BIOS features and a free copy of 
WinDVD simply don't make up for that 
gap. Scores aside, the OC difference really 
highlighted the EP-8KDA3+, as 2.32GHz 
from 1.85GHz is a nice overclock. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 67 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 
& Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 



Although AMD's Athlon 64 
4000+ and its 1MB L2 cache hit 
the market shortly before we 
went to press, the processor's older sibling, 
the Athlon 64 3800+, still holds its own. 
The CPU boasts a 2.4GHz clock speed, 
512KB of L2 cache, and, of course, 64-bit 
processing. We matched this solid CPU up 
with three motherboards, and when it came 
time to pick our testing order, the Soltek 
SL-K8TPro-939 drew the short straw. 

Motherboard 

Although there are enough exceptions 
out there to prevent this from being a rule 
of thumb, we often find that the mobos 
that have great color schemes don't lead the 
pack when we fire up our test system. As 
we said, however, there are exceptions, and 
the Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 stands as unde- 
niable proof: This great-looking board best- 
ed not one, but two MSI boards handily. 
MSI boards are known for tried-and- 
true color schemes, dependable perfor- 
mance, and decent (but not outrageous) 
overclockability, so they shine next to glitzy 
wannabes, but these two boards can't top 
the slick, powerhouse SL-K8TPro-939. 



also boasts 8-channel sound and optical 
SPDIF output, thanks to a Realtek 
ALC850 codec. And its RAID features 
will please upgraders and no-I-won't-toss- 
my-IDE-drives-until-they-die'ers alike: 
The board has a total of four SATA con- 
nectors and a RAID IDE connector. 

We like Soltek's Debug LED, an 
onboard device that flashes system status 
codes as your system boots (or doesn't), but 
we're disappointed that Soltek didn't add 
troubleshooting codes, as some other man- 
ufacturers do. We need closure — we want 
the display to tell us when the board is real- 
ly toast. We also wouldn't mind it if the 
code descriptions in the manual included 
appropriate troubleshooting advice, but 
we're just thinking out loud, Soltek. 

Overclock 

We updated to Phoenix AwardBIOS 
(Soltek version Wl.l) without a hitch 
and then peeked inside to see what kind 
of overclocking options the BIOS affords. 
Soltek is quietly working on its relatively 
young Windows-based OC software, 
RedStorm, but the program doesn't yet 
support socket 939 boards, so the BIOS is 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 


Motherboard 


Soltek SL-K8T-Pro 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix 


BIOS Version 


Soltek W1.1 


Chipset Driver 


VIA 4-in-1 4.51 (K8T800 Pro) 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7200rpm 


Heatsink 


Thermalright SLK948-U 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX- 
VE-SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



didn't see anything out of order on this 
page, so we ran our benchmarks without 
changing the board's stock settings. 

The SL-K8TPro-939 showed its mus- 
cle right away, posting the highest scores 
and frame rates of the three motherboards 
in all of the benchmarks. Granted, it 
didn't thrash the other boards (yet), but it 
clearly won each competition. The board 
posted 4739 in PCMark04, 99 points 
higher than the NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra- 
based MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum Edition's 
score at stock settings, but only 41 points 



AMD Sempron 3100+ 
Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 


Processor 
Speed 

2.4GHz 

2.62GHz 



PCMark04 
FSB Multiplier Voltage PCMark04 CPU 

200MHz 12 1.5V 4739 4467 

218MHz 12 1.55V 5081 4924 


PCMark04 
Memory 

5442 

5923 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

4157 

4164 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4478 

4539 


3DMark05 

2509 

2529 


Doom 3 

23.6fps 

23.6fps 



The SL-K8TPro-939, which boasts the 
VIA K8T800Pro and VT8237 chipset, 
sliced up the competition when we ran the 
benchmarks, but performance isn't the 
board's only punch: It also has some great 
features. The motherboard boasts Gigabit 
LAN, an external FireWire (400Mbps) 
port, an internal FireWire connector, four 
external USB 2.0 ports, and internal sup- 
port for four more. The SL-K8TPro-939 



the only way to go. That doesn't bother 
us any: In our experience, overclocking 
software doesn't squeeze performance out 
of a machine as well as the BIOS. 

The PC health section is called 
SmartDoc Anti-Burn on the BIOS' main 
page. The section doesn't let you adjust 
any settings, but it has all the system sta- 
tus information you'd expect: fan speeds, 
critical voltages, and system temps. We 



higher than the VIA K8T800 Pro-based 
MSI K8T Neo2-FIR. In fact, the board 
captured only one of the top PCMark04 
component scores: It won the Memory 
contest by leaps and bounds. The K8N 
Neo2 took the HDD (hard drive) and 
CPU score crowns (but it beat the SL- 
K8TPro-939 by only 10 points in the 
CPU category) and the K8T Neo2-FIR 
clung to the Graphics score lead. 



68 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



And the margin slimmed 
even further when we ran 
3DMark05, Futuremark's lat- 
est video card crusher: At 
2509, the SL-K8TPro-939 
took the Best Score title by 
a mere 21 points. The system 
posted a frame rate of 23.6fps, 
O.lfps above the crowd. 

With the SL-K8TPro-939 
enjoying a slight lead, we re- 
entered the BIOS (DELETE 
during POST) and got down 
to business. The Frequency/ 
Control section has plenty of 
basic options, including a mul- 
tiplier setting (x4-x20), the 
CPU frequency setting (200 to 
300MHz) and the CPU voltage 
setting (0.8 to 1.55V in 0.25V 
steps). We disabled Spread 

Spectrum, which can cause 

instability early when you over- 
clock the system, bumped the frequency to 
210MHz (2.52GHz) and then bumped the 
CPU Vcore to 1.55V for good measure. 

We started by running 3DMark05's 
CPU test to quickly determine whether the 
system was in reasonably stable condition. 
We ran all of the benchmarks at several 
frequencies during the process to ensure 
the system was truly stable — we simply 
used the particularly stressful CPU test as a 
quick check along the way. We learned an 
hour or so later that the CPU test alone is 
not a useful stability gauge. No, not useful 
at all. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves. 

The system completed 3DMark05's 
CPU test without any trouble, so we 
jumped back into the BIOS and raised the 
frequency another 5MHz. That's no small 
jump, thanks to the xl2 multiplier, but 
after watching it breeze through the CPU 
test, we expected our system to take the 
higher frequency in stride. Unfortunately, 
ATI's VPU Recover feature kicked in 
shortly after we started 3DMark05, reset- 
ting the resolution to 640 x 480 and asking 
us to restart the system. We obliged and 
backed the system down 1MHz, at which 
point it successfully completed the CPU 
test. We couldn't believe we'd reached the 
system's ceiling already (2.58GHz), so we 
raised the frequency again to 215MHz and 




Southbridge 
(VIA VT8237) 



5ATA 
Connectors 

Audio Codec 



Northbridge 
(VIA K8T800 



ATX Power 
Connector 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




dropped the voltage back to its default set- 
ting. This time, the system didn't bother 
asking us to reboot after it crashed out of 
the CPU test — it took care of that itself. 

We decided to get benchmark scores at 
214MHz before trying to break the 
215MHz ceiling again, but 3DMark05 
almost instantly crashed. Intrigued, we 
rebooted without changing the settings 
and ran only the CPU test, which didn't 
harm the system. Clearly, the CPU test 
wasn't whacking our system hard enough. 
In fact, when we ran the full 3DMark05, 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark03 



• Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 


Stock Performance 


2509 




Overclocked Performance 


2529 




MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 


Stock Performance 


2463 




Overclocked Performance 


2481 




MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum Edition 




■ 


Stock Performance 


2488 




Overclocked Performance 


2492 





we discovered that the system 
was crashing as low 208MHz. 

Finally, we disabled the 
Async AGP/PCI Clock feature 
out of press-all-the-keys-and- 
hope-for-the-best desperation. 
The asynchronous feature 
should break the AGP/PCI fre- 
quency lock, so we didn't really 
expect much by disabling it. 
Sure enough, the disabled 
Async AGP/PCI Clock fea- 
ture did the trick; we pushed 
the system to a respectable 
218MHz. In fact, the system 
ran 3DMark05 (5136) and PC- 
Mark04 (4935) without any 
trouble but crashed right after 
posting a frame rate of 23.7fps 
in Doom 3. We then ran the 
benchmarks a second time at 
^^^ 218MHz (2.62GHz) to make 
sure the system was stable. 
At 218MHz and with a 1.55V Vcore, 
the SL-K8TPro-939 finally broke free of 
the MSI boards and provided some 
impressive benchmarks. The system post- 
ed a PCMark04 score of 5081, 116 points 
higher than the K8T Neo2-FIR's second- 
place score. The Soltek board also grabbed 
three of the four PCMark04 component 
scores (CPU, Memory, and HDD). The 
K8T Neo2-FIR retained the Graphics 
high score, but by only nine points. 

The SL-K8TPro-939 also raised its 
3DMark05 lead over the K8N Neo2 from 
21 points (stock) to 37 points (OC). It 
couldn't manage 23.7fps at 218MHz, how- 
ever. The Soltek board tied the K8T Neo2- 
FIR at 23.6 fps, exactly where it started. 

Final Word 

Without a doubt, the SL-K8TPro-939 is 
a great overclocker. It's important to note 
that the board's high scores at stock settings 
don't artificially inflate its overclocked 
scores — the SL-K8TPro-939 posted the 
largest clock speed change, the largest 
PCMark04 score change (457 points, 100 
points larger than the runner-up's score 
change) and the largest 3DMark05 score 
change. Simply put, it's a champ. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 69 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 
& MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 



After we wrapped up the Soltek 
SL-K8TPro-939's impressive 
run, we turned to MSI's new 
K8T Neo2-FIR, which sports a 1000MHz 
bus. As before, we popped our trusty 
Athlon 64 3800+ into the 939-pin socket. 
Although the SL-K8TPro-939 shares the 
same chipset, we didn't want to risk skew- 
ing the benchmark scores by running the 
hard drive's old Windows installation, so 
we completely reinstalled Windows. 

Motherboard 

As with most MSI boards, the VIA 
K8T800 Pro-based K8T Neo2-FIR is 
bright red, which makes it a great compo- 
nent for a windowed case. MSI uses other 
colors to identify certain components. For 
example, you'll need to place MSI's 
optional Wi-Fi card in the orange PCI slot 
(the board includes MSI's DigiCell, which 
controls the Wi-Fi card's settings). 

As for features, the K8T Neo2-FIR has 
plenty. Thanks to the VT8237 southbridge 
and a Promise PDC20579 controller, the 
board has a third IDE slot and four SATA 
slots, which means you have several RAID 
options. It also supports three FireWire 
(400Mbps) ports. MSI placed two external 
ports (one of which is a miniport) in the 
I/O area at the back of the board but didn't 
forget to put an internal FireWire connec- 
tor on the board (it stands below the orange 
PCI slot). If your system's chassis has a 



front panel FireWire port, you can attach it 
to the board via this connector. The board 
also has four external USB 2.0 ports and 
two internal USB connectors, each of 
which supports up to two USB ports. 

The K8T Neo2-FIR doesn't sport the 
Soltek SL-K8TPro-939's handy Debug 
LED display, but it does include an exten- 
sion module that has four LEDs. The 
module attaches to one of the chassis' PCI 
slot bays (blocking the PCI slot behind it) 
and connects to the motherboard via the 
internal USB connector. As with the 
Soltek board's display, this LED system 
shows only system status codes during 
POST. If your system freezes or crashes 
during POST, you can use the LED dis- 
play (and the manual's corresponding code 
descriptions) to pinpoint some problems, 
but the manual doesn't provide any code- 
based troubleshooting information. 

If you don't have an add-on sound card, 
you'll welcome the built-in 8-channel 
Realtek ALC850 audio codec. The I/O 
area boasts standard audio ports, a rear 
speaker port, a subwoofer port, and 
S/PDIF-out ports. The I/O area also has a 
single Gigabit LAN port with status LEDs. 

Overclock 

We installed the latest BIOS (Amer- 
ican Megatrends BIOS Soltek version 
3.2) before we benchmarked our Athlon 
64 3800+ and K8T Neo2-FIR combo. 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 


Motherboard 


MSIK8TNeo2-FIR 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


American Megatrends 


BIOS Version 


MSI 3.2 


Chipset Driver 


VIA 4-in-1 4.51 (K8T800 Pro) 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Thermalright SLK948-U 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX-VE- 
SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



The new version fixes a problem that 
caused the BIOS to display incorrect 
CPU temps. We entered the BIOS 
(DELETE during POST) and then 
jumped into Cell Menu, MSI's built-in 
overclocking section, to make sure that 
the BIOS hadn't automatically changed 
any of the CPU's default settings. 

Once we installed Windows and the 
latest drivers, we let our test system take 
the benchmarks for a spin. The K8T 
Neo2-FIR system didn't stumble during 
any of the benchmarks, but its scores 
couldn't beat out its NVIDIA nForce3 
Ultra-based sibling, the MSI K8N Neo2 
Platinum Edition, or the SL-K8TPro- 
939. The K8T Neo2-FIR scored a mere 
4640 in PCMark04, 58 points behind the 
K8N Neo2 and 99 points behind SL- 
K8TPro-939. Despite the disappointing 
overall PCMark04 showing, the board 
managed to snag the lead in the Graphics 
portion of the test, if only by 31 points. 

The K8T Neo2-FIR's woes didn't end 
when we ran 3DMark05 and Doom 3's 
time demo, either. The board placed third 



AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 




















MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 




















Processor 

Speed FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 
CPU 


PCMark04 
Memory 


PCMark04 
Graphics 


PCMark04 
HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 2.4GHz 200MHz 
Performance 


12 


1.5V 


4640 


4440 


4711 


4188 


4464 


2463 


23.5fps 


Overclocked 2.58GHz 215MHz 
Performance 


12 


1.6V 


4965 


4755 


5079 


4173 


4479 


2481 


23.6fps 



70 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



in 3DMark05, scoring 2463 to 
the K8N Neo2's and SL- 
K8TPro-939's 2488 and 2509, 
respectively. The mobo then 
tied with its sibling for last 
place in the Doom 3 time 
demo, posting 23.5fps. 

We couldn't wait to give 
the K8T Neo2-FIR a chance 
to show its mettle, so we dived 
into the BIOS, took a quick 
look at the PC Health Status 
section to make sure the sys- 
tem didn't have any fan speed 
or temp problems, and then 
entered the Cell Menu. MSI's 
overclocking section puts all 
of the board's OC features at 
your fingertips, including 
memory settings, the CPU 
frequency (200 to 280MHz), 
memory and AGP voltage, 
and the CPU voltage. Unlike 
many CPU voltage adjust- 
ment settings, which let you 
specify voltages, this board's 
settings let you raise the volt- 
age by (very approximate) per- 
centages: 3.3%, 5%, 6.6%, 
11%, and 15%. 

The Cell Menu section also let us dis- 
able the Spread Spectrum feature and Cool 
'n Quiet, a feature that can automatically 
adjust the CPU's fan speed based on its 
temp. We weren't worried about noise and 
wanted our fan to consistently blast air 
through the fins at top speed. Instead, we 
raised the frequency to a moderate 
208MHz and then ran our benchmarks. 

The test system responded to the 
increase right away. It scored 2471 in 
3DMark05, a decent increase, and then 
pounded PCMark04, posting a 195-point 
increase at 4835. The system's Doom 3 
frame rate went up O.lfps to 23.6fps. We 
figured that we were probably pushing the 
board's limits at the default CPU voltage, 
so we raised the frequency a baby step to 
212MHz (2.54GHz) and then ran 
3DMark05. The system handled the 
benchmark without any trouble but pro- 
vided a mere four-point increase. 

Next, we cranked the system up to 
218MHz (2.62GHz). We didn't raise the 




BIOS 



SATA 
Connectors 



Gigabit 

Ethernet 

Controller 



ATX Power 
Connector 



Morthbridge 
(VIA K8T800 Pro) 



Audio Codec 



Southbridge 
(VIA VT8237) 



3%. 10%, 




voltage, so we half-expected the system to 
collapse before it loaded Windows, but 
instead the PC clung to life until the very 
end of 3DMark05, at which point it gave 
us the dreaded BSOD and rebooted. We 
raised the voltage to 1.6V and ran the 
benchmark again, but the system rebooted 
again. We backed the frequency down to 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 


Stock Performance 


2509 


Overclocked Performance 


2529 




• MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 


Stock Performance 


2463 


Overclocked Performance 


2481 




MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum Edition 


Stock Performance 


2488 


Overclocked Performance 


2492 



216MHz. The system crashed 
again, so we began to wonder 
whether we had damaged the 
board. We dropped back to 
212MHz, reset the CPU volt- 
age to 1.5V, and then ran the 
benchmarks again without a 
hitch. The PC upped its previ- 
ous 212MHz 3DMark05 score 
by three points and posted a 
respectable 4908 in PCMark04. 
We raised the voltage and 
tackled higher frequencies, only 
to watch our system end its 
own torment every time we 
ran 3DMark05. Finally, we 
dropped the motherboard bus 
from 1000 to 800MHz. This 
let the system run stable at 
215MHz, but we couldn't push 
it any further. 

At215MHz(2.58GHz), the 

system posted only slightly 

better scores than it had at 

212MHz. That said, its 4965 

PCMark04 isn't anything to 

^^^^^ sniff at; although it couldn't 

reach the SL-K8TPro-939's 

5081, the K8T Neo2-FIR's score topped 

the K8N Neo2's score by more than 100 

points. And, the board hung onto its 

Graphics category high score, a bittersweet 

prize. The board couldn't break third place 

in 3DMark05, scoring only 2481. 

Final Word 

Although our K8T Neo2-FIR-based 
system crashed horribly and at most over- 
clocked settings, it settled into a stable 
groove when we found the 215MHz 
sweet spot. And for all the fuss, the board 
produced decent increases: It posted a 
325-point increase in PCMark04 and an 
18-point increase in 3DMark05 (just two 
points shy of the Soltek board's increase), 
and it was the only board to change its 
Doom 3 frame rate at all. The K8T 
Neo2-FIR and the SL-K8TPro-939 have 
similar RAID and Fire Wire features, both 
have Gigabit LAN, and they're both avail- 
able for about $117, so you really can't go 
wrong with either board. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 71 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Athlon 64 3800 
& MSI K8N Neo2 
Platinum Edition 



After throwing two VIA K8T800 
Pro-based mobos at the Athlon 
64 3800 + , we tossed an 
NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra-based board into 
the mix. The K8N Neo2 is a little more 
expensive than its counterparts, but it 
offers a great features package. 

Motherboard 

Aside from NVIDIA's unique single- 
chip nForce3 Ultra model (VIA-based 
socket 939 boards have both the K8T800 
Pro northbridge and VT8237 southbridge), 
the MSI K8N Neo2 has few layout differ- 
ences from its counterpart, the K8T Neo2- 
FIR. In fact, the only layout difference that 
caught our attention is that the memory 
banks stand horizontally instead of vertical- 
ly on the board. We didn't worry about 
this at first, but when we attached our 
ridiculously large (but oh-so-efficient) 
Thermalright SLK-948U heatsink, we 
found that we could just barely slide our 
first DIMM into the nearby memory slot. 
If you plan to use a large heatsink, make 
sure you install the memory before you 
lock your hunk of copper into place. 

We also noticed that MSI staggered 
green (channel A) and purple (channel B) 
memory slots instead of putting the colors 
in pairs. We like the new scheme because 



you can quickly spot separate channels. The 
only potential (and minor) drawback is that 
the new layout forced us to stand our dual 
DIMMs next to each other; the older 
scheme put more space (and thus, more 
cooling air) between the DIMMs. That 
said, many boards use side-by-side memory 
slot layouts, and we haven't had any trouble 
with our OCZ memory (it doesn't hurt 
that each DIMM has its own heatspreader). 

Unlike the VIA-based board, the K8N 
Neo2 doesn't have a third IDE slot, but it 
does have four SATA ports, so we're not 
complaining. The board also boasts MSI's 
new Communications Slot, which is a PCI 
slot that controls the optional Wi-Fi card 
via some nonstandard PCI definitions 
(MSI's included DigiCell software pro- 
vides the card's settings interface). If you 
don't have the wireless card, you can put 
any other PCI device into the orange slot. 

The nForce3 ultra supports Gigabit 
LAN and even has its own firewall. MSI 
popped two controllers onto the board, 
which means the K8N Neo2 has not one, 
but two Gigabit LAN ports. We recognize 
that this is a high-end board, but we hope 
that MSI soon finds it in its heart to make 
dual Gigabit standard on its boards. The 
board also includes MSI's Core Center 
Windows-based overclocking software. In 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 


Motherboard 


MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum Edition 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award 


BIOS Version 


MSI 1.3 


Chipset Driver 


NVIDIA Unified 5.03 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


Thermalright SLK948-U 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX-VE- 
SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



our experience, Core Center doesn't push a 
CPU as far as the BIOS can, but it provides 
a bonus feature: You can overclock and 
reset to default settings without rebooting 
your system after each change. 

Overclock 

MSI's Web site lumps all of its BIOS 
and driver updates into a single (but orga- 
nized) area. If you click the Download 
Center link on the K8N Neo2's Web page, 
you enter this section and you'll need to 
search for downloads via the site's basic 
search engine. We don't have any com- 
plaints about this system, but we noticed 
that the Model drop-down menu lists four 
Neo2 motherboards — make sure you select 
the K8N Neo2 Platinum (MS-7025) 
model. Also, MSI uses both American 
Megatrends and Phoenix Award BlOSes, 
so make sure you download the appropri- 
ate manual before you update. We down- 
loaded and installed Phoenix AwardBIOS 
(MSI version 1.3). Next, we installed 
Windows and then the NVIDIA nForce3 
System Drivers 5.03. 



AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 




















MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum Edition 


















Processor 
Speed 


FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 
CPU 


PCMark04 
Memory 


PCMark04 
Graphics 


PCMark04 
HDD 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 2.4GHz 
Performance 


200MHz 


12 


1.5V 


4698 


4477 


4749 


4141 


4548 


2488 


23.5fps 


Overclocked 2.5GHz 
Performance 


208MHz 


12 


1.55V 


4852 


4626 


4917 


4146 


4531 


2492 


23.5fps 



72 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Once we finished installing 
the drivers, we ran our test 
system through our string of 
benchmarks. The K8N Neo2 
put up a decent showing right 
off the bat: Its overall PC- 
Mark04 score of 4698 trailed 
the Soltek SL-K8TPro-939's 
score by only 41 points. In the 
CPU test, the K8N Neo2 
took top honors with a 4477 
score that led the Soltek board 
by 10 points. It also grabbed a 
70-point lead over the SL- 
K8Pro-939 in the HDD 
(hard drive) test. The board 
rolled to a last place finish in 
the Graphics test, however, 
and its Memory score paled 
in comparison to the SL- 
K8TPro-939's score. The 
board scored well in 3DMark- 
05, trailing the SL-K8TPro- 
939 by only 21 points. In 
Doom 3, it tied the K8T 
Neo2-FIR at23.5fps. ^^^ 

Next, we dived into the 
BIOS (DELETE at POST) and browsed 
first to the H/W Monitor section, which 
houses the Chassis Intrusion Detect and 
Smart CPU Fan features. Not surprising- 
ly, Smart CPU Fan adjusts the fan speed 
to lower noise pollution when the CPU 
isn't busy. Noise-conscious users will like 
this feature, but we wouldn't have bought 
the 92mm Vantec Tornado if we were 
worried about noise, so we left these fea- 
tures at their default (disabled) positions 
and then entered the PC Health Status 
subsection, which displays important volt- 
ages, fan speeds, and temperatures. 

With our test PC ready for action, we 
skipped over to the Cell Menu. This 
BIOS section houses all of the overclock- 
ing features, including several memory 
timing settings. The section also lets you 
adjust the multiplier (x4 to x20), frequen- 
cy (200 to 300MHz), and CPU voltage. 
The BIOS uses a color scheme to indicate 
safe and risky settings: White settings 
won't destabilize your system, but you're 
pushing the envelope if your new settings 
appear yellow. Red, not surprisingly, 
denotes a very risky setting. 




NVDIA 
nForce3 Ultra 



Communications/ 
PCI Slot 

SATA Connectors 
Audio Codec 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controllers 



ATX Power Connector 



ItjW \ 


JpT 


pir "' """"lii - "1 


i S •- iWk 




Pi * * 1 fiii-J 



We disabled Spread Spectrum and 
cranked the CPU frequency from 200 to 
210MHz. Unfortunately, our system was- 
n't feeling as bold as we were; it refused to 
load Windows and displayed a Warning! 
Now System Is In Safe Mode. Please 
Reset Overclocking Features message. 
Undaunted, we kicked the voltage to 1.55 
and tried again, but got the same results. 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



Soltek SL-K8TPro-939 


Stock Performance 


2509 


Overclocked Performance 


2529 




MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 


Stock Performance 


2463 


Overclocked Performance 


2481 




• MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum Edition 


Stock Performance 


2488 


Overclocked Performance 


2492 



We backed the system all 
the way down to 203MHz, at 
which point it loaded Win- 
dows, but we weren't interest- 
ed in scores at this low setting. 
We bumped the system to 
205MHz (2.46GHz) and ran 
our benchmarks without any 
trouble. The system's 3D- 
Mark05 score didn't change, 
but at 4775, PCMark05 
increased. In fact, all of the 
component scores, including 
the Graphics score, increased. 
Doom 3 remained at 23.5fps. 

Our test system finally 
maxed out at 208MHz, just 
shy of 2. 5 GHz. This time, the 
PC posted 2492 in 3DMark- 
05 and 4852 in PCMark04. 
However, the board lost its 
PCMark04 CPU and HDD 
titles. It scored 4626 in the 
CPU test (to the SL-K8TPro- 
939's 4924 and the K8T 
Neo2-FIR's 4755) and 4531 
in the HDD test, just eight 
points shy of the SL-K8TPro-939's top 
score. We tried going above 208MHz, 
but the PC only loaded Windows at 
209MHz, and it froze during 3DMark05. 
Next, we tried the Cell Menu's other 
overclocking feature: Dynamic Over- 
clocking. If you enable this feature, you 
can choose from six levels (Private, 
Sergeant, Captain, Colonel, General, and 
Commander). Unfortunately, our system 
couldn't load Windows (it froze during 
startup) at these settings — you may have 
better luck with a different processor. 

Final Word 

The K8N Neo2 didn't post any signifi- 
cant increases, but it's certainly no slouch 
at stock settings. It has a slew of great fea- 
tures, so don't overlook this board if you're 
building a standard system. That said, if 
you want to push your system to its limits, 
you're probably better off with the K8T 
Neo2-FIR or the SL-K8TPro-939, both of 
which posted greater gains. The K8N 
Neo2 is available for about $135. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 73 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Athlon 

64 FX-53 & 

ABIT AV8-3RD Eye 



We powered the systems in 
our final AMD-based 
roundup with the Athlon 
64 FX-53. The socket 940 processors 
relied on registered memory, which is 
more expensive than standard DDR 
RAM, but this requirement disappeared 
when AMD switched to the socket 939 
model. Instead of introducing the change 
when it released the FX-55, AMD pro- 
duced a second, 939-pin version of the 
FX-53. Although some customers may 
have been caught by surprise, manufac- 
turers weren't — the usual suspects had 
several boards ready for the launch. Now, 
you'll find far more socket 939 boards 
than FX-based socket 940 boards. 

If you glance at our specs list, you'll 
notice that we swapped our trusty 
Thermalright SLK948-U for a Thermal- 
take PIPE101. Thermalright's massive cop- 



standard mobo backplates. Laziness isn't 
our only motivation to stick with the mobo 
backplate — some mobo makers attach the 
backplate to the board with adhesive. You 
won't remove that without a screwdriver. 

Motherboard 

ABIT offers two versions of its K8T800 
Pro-based motherboard: the AV8 and the 
AV8-3rd Eye. Aside from a $20 price dif- 
ference and the uGuru Clock, the two 
boards are one and the same. We opted for 
the more expensive version with the device. 

The AV8-3rd Eye has four dual-channel 
memory slots that support up to 4GB of 
PC3200 memory, a 6-channel Realtek 
ALC650 audio codec, SPDIF-Out and -In 
ports, and Gigabit LAN, to name a few of 
its perks. ABIT didn't load the board with 
RAID options, but the two SATA connec- 
tors provide RAID and 1. The two IDE 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 


Motherboard 


ABIT AV8-3rd Eye 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award 


BIOS Version 


ABIT 17 


Chipset Driver 


VIA 455 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 
Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX-VE- 
SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



If we gave awards for the most useful 
accessory, the uGuru Clock would garner a 
few. The stylish clock has a grayscale LCD 
that's about the size of a business card and a 
cord that enters your PC via a custom PCI 
bay cover. ABIT splits the screen into four 
smaller displays that let you find out every- 
thing you need to know about your system 
with a glance. The sections display system 
temps, component voltages, fan speeds, and 



AMD Athlon 64 FX-! 
ABIT AV8-3rd Eye 

Processor 
Speed 


»3 








PCMark04 
CPU 






PCMark04 
HDD 

4506 

4530 






PCMark04 


PCMark04 


FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


Memory 

5643 


Graphics 

4120 


3DMark05 

2488 


Doom 3 

23.7fps 


Stock 2.4GHz 
Performance 


200MHz 


12 
12 


1.5V 


4821 


4595 
4950 


Overclocked 2.62GHz 
Performance 


218MHz 


1.6V 


5130 


6043 


4128 


2503 


23.7fps 















per heatsink served us well, but one of the 
screws stripped the backplate screw recepta- 
cle as we removed the heatsink from anoth- 
er system. Unfortunately, the heatsink has a 
custom backplate; it doesn't fit the standard 
backplate that accompanies your mobo. 
Thus, we transferred our noisy Vantec 
Tornado fan to the similarly sized 
PIPE101. If you're planning to put a huge 
hunk of copper on your processor, consider 
the PIPE101 over the Thermalright 
heatsink because the PIPE101 screws into 



connectors face off the right side of the 
board, which may irritate users who have 
cramped cases, but if your case has a 
removable mobo tray, it's not a problem. 

The board boasts VIA's K8T800 Pro 
northbridge and the VT8237 south- 
bridge, which supports the SATA connec- 
tors and eight USB ports (four external, 
two dual-port internal connectors). A sep- 
arate VIA VT6306 chip handles the one 
external and two internal FireWire 
(400Mbps) connectors. 



clock speed. But it's not just for show — 
thanks to a few buttons on the top of the 
clock, you can choose from several prespec- 
ified CPU settings. In other words, you can 
overclock your system by pressing a button. 

Overclock 

Before we installed Windows, we 
downloaded the latest BIOS (Phoenix 
Award, ABIT version 17), which provides 
a few fixes and several feature updates, 
including a uGuru Utility update. Next, 



74 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



we installed Windows, loaded the 
latest drivers, and then benched our 
new test system with default settings. 

We ran these benchmarks to cre- 
ate a baseline — when we later over- 
clocked the PC, we compared our 
new scores to the baseline scores. 
And oh, what baseline scores they 
were. At 200MHz and with an xl2 
multiplier and 1.5V Vcore, the AV8- 
3rd Eye stole the PCMark04 top 
score with 4821, beating out its 
nearest competitor (the GIGABYTE 
GA-K8NSNXP-939) by 55 points. 
It also took top honors in the 
PCMark04 CPU and Memory com- 
ponent scores by wide margins but 
lost the Graphics and HDD score to 
the GA-K8NSNXP-939. Even so, it 
didn't lose by much; the GIGA- 
BYTE board's widest margin of vie- — 
tory was 35 points in the HDD category. 

The AV8-3rd Eye's winning streak 
ended as soon as we ran 3DMark05 and 
Doom 3. The board's 2488 score fell just 
16 points below the GA-K8NSNXP- 
939's 2504 and the ASUS A8V Deluxe's 
surprise (and short-lived) 24fps in Doom 
3 beat out both of the other contenders. 

Next, we entered the BIOS and poked 
around to find features that might cause 
us trouble down the road. As it turned 
out, the Power Management Setup section 
has THRM-Throttling, a feature that 
reduces your CPU's speed as it heats up. 
This feature is great in a standard system 
as it cools your CPU without shutting 
down the PC, but a throttle is the last 
thing we wanted, so we disabled it. 

We headed back to the main page and 
then jumped into the uGuru Utility, 
which has two sections: OC Guru and 
ABIT EQ. We disabled all fan control 
and shutdown features in ABIT EQ, then 
entered OC Guru, which houses most of 
the overclocking options. To adjust the 
CPU frequency, we first selected the CPU 
Operating Speed field and switched it to 
User Define. Once we pressed ENTER, 
the gray External Clock, Multiplier 
Factor, and AGP Ratio fields turned 
white, which meant that we could adjust 
them. The External Clock field offers 
a CPU frequency range of 200 to 




ATX Power 
Connector 



Audio 
Codec 



Gigabit Ethernet 
Controller 




410MHz in 1MHz increments and the 
CPU Core Voltage Control (under 
Voltages Control; we also set this section 
to User Define) offers a range of 1.5 to 
1.85V in 0.025V increments. 

The AV8-3rd Eye's overclocking story is 
short but sweet: It crashed hard multiple 
times, but when we finally found a setting 
it liked, the board sprang into action, pro- 
ducing great scores and a great overclock. 
We love a happy ending. 

First, we raised the frequency from 200 
to 208MHz. We left the voltage setting 
alone as we didn't want to adjust it until we 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



• ABIT AV8-3rd Eye 


Stock Performance 


2488 




Overclocked Performance 


2503 






ASUS A8V Deluxe 


Stock Performance 


2321 




Overclocked Performance 


2368 






GIGABYTE GA-K8NSNXP-939 




H 


Stock Performance 


2504 




Overclocked Performance 


2513 





were certain that we couldn't push 
the CPU any further on its frequency 
alone. At 208MHz, the system post- 
ed a modest increase in 3DMark05 
(to 2491) and a substantial increase 
in PCMark04 with a score of 4912. 
However, the Doom 3 frame rate 
dropped to 23.4fps. 

We bumped the CPU frequency 
up another 4MHz without any 
trouble. The test PC scored 2491 in 
3DMark05 and 4983 in PCMark- 
04, so we rebooted and jumped to 
220MHz. Sadly, the system would- 
n't even load Windows at this 
speed. Windows struggled to life 
when we pulled the CPU frequency 
back to 218MHz, but the system 
crashed and automatically rebooted 
before completing 3DMark05. 
As it turned out, the AV8-3rd 
Eye needed more voltage. At 218MHz 
(2.62GHz) and with a 1.6V Vcore, the 
system reclaimed its PCMark04 title, 
scoring 5130. It also took the Graphics 
component title from the GA- 
K8NSNXP-939 by a mere four points 
but lost the CPU and Memory top scores 
to the A8V Deluxe. Finally, the ABIT- 
3rd Eye board narrowed the 3DMark05 
gap to 10 points with a score of 2503 and 
tied the A8V Deluxe in Doom 3 at 
23.7fps. We tried several higher frequen- 
cies and voltages, but the system wasn't 
stable beyond 218MHz. 

Final Word 

If we were picking an OC winner, we'd 
choose the AV8-3rd Eye. It didn't quite 
push our FX-53 to the highest clock 
speed in the roundup, but it took top 
honors in two of our three benchmarks 
and very nearly posted the highest score 
in the third. In fact, we don't have any 
complaints about its performance, where- 
as we weren't excited about the A8V 
Deluxe's 2368 3DMark05 score and the 
GA-K8NSNXP-939's third-place clock 
speed. That said, both of those boards are 
decent overclockers. If you're brand-loyal, 
you can stay that way without feeling as 
though you're missing out. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 75 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Athlon 

64 FX-53 & 

ASUS A8V Deluxe 



As with the FX-53, the FX-55 is 
built on the 0.13 micron 
process and has a 1.5V default 
voltage and 200MHz CPU frequency. 
However, the new processor has an xl3 
multiplier, which makes its default 
clock speed a whopping 2.6GHz. Of 
course, speed like this doesn't come 
cheap — you'll shell out about $880 for 
this ride. 

Motherboard 

If you have an 802.11b or g wireless 
network, you may want to take a look at 
the Wireless Edition version of the A8V 
Deluxe, which is available for about $20 
more. The two boards are identical, but 
the Wireless Edition includes ASUS' Wi- 
Fi@HOME 802.1 lg card. We like the 



If you're looking for neon color schemes 
and LED northbridge fans, you're not 
looking for an ASUS board. The mobo 
maker used black and blue to denote mem- 
ory socket channels and to separate the 
RAID IDE connector from its siblings, but 
ASUS stuck to beige when it added the five 
PCI slots. To its credit, ASUS' only stab at 
mobo decorating — a light-blue aluminum 
heatsink that cools the K8T800 Pro — is a 
nice touch. But we're not handing out 
points for style anyway — we want cool fea- 
tures and the A8V Deluxe has plenty. For 
starters, the board boasts four SATA con- 
nectors and three IDE connectors, thanks 
to a Promise chip near the BIOS (the 
VT8237 southbridge handles two of the 
SATA connectors), which means the board 
supports RAID 0, 1, and 0+1. 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 


Motherboard 


ASUS A8V Deluxe 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


American Megatrends 


BIOS Version 


ASUS 1008 


Chipset Driver 


VIA 455 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI RADEON 9800 
Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 80GB 
7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX-VE- 
SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



Windows, you can use the ASUS Update 
utility to download and install the BIOS 
update, but if you haven't yet installed 
Windows, you'll need to use the AFU- 
DOS tool, EZ Flash, or CrashFree BIOS 
2. Overclockers will like CrashFree BIOS 
2 because it means that they don't need to 
back up the original BIOS. If you corrupt 
your system's BIOS, you simply insert the 



AMD Athlon 64 FX-5 
ASUS A8V Deluxe 

Processor 
Speed 


3 








PCMark04 
CPU 

4497 

5011 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4526 

4532 




FSB 


Multiplier 


Voltage 


PCMark04 


Memory 


Graphics 


3DMark05 


Doom 3 


Stock 2.4GHz 
Performance 


200MHz 


12 


1.5V 


4630 


5392 


3968 


2321 


24fps 


Overclocked 2.65GHz 
Performance 


221MHz 


12 


1.75V 


5104 


6112 


3901 


2368 


23.7fps 



















card as it has an antenna that attaches via 
a long cord (unlike most Wi-Fi cards, 
which have a short antenna that attaches 
directly to the card). As a result, you can 
move the antenna to get better reception. 
We reviewed the Wireless Edition in our 
sister publication PC MOBOs and 
planned to overclock it here, but the 
board was DOA. What can we say, it's a 
dangerous world out there ... in our 
storeroom. The Wi-Fi-less A8Vs are far 
more prevalent than the Wireless A8Vs, 
so we ordered a plain of A8V Deluxe and 
gently placed it in our test system. 



Gigabit LAN is standard fare anymore 
so we weren't surprised to see it here, but 
we were glad to find the new Realtek 
ALC850 codec instead of the ALC650 that 
graces lower-priced mobos. The board sup- 
ports the 8-channel chip with multiple 
audio ports, including both coaxial and 
optical SPDIF-Out ports. The A8V also 
supports eight USB 2.0 ports and has three 
Fire Wire ports (one external, two internal). 

Overclock 

The A8V Deluxe offers several BIOS 
update options. Once you install 



driver CD and reboot the PC. However, 
the CD obviously has only the original 
BIOS. We downloaded the AFUDOS 
BIOS Update Tool 2.1 from the A8V 
Deluxe's Download page and then 
installed American Megatrends BIOS 
(ASUS version 1008) without a hitch. 
The patch updated the BIOS' CPU sup- 
port, added a memory status message to 
the POST screen, and patched a Cool 'N 
Quiet bug. 

Once we installed Windows, we ran 
the A8V Deluxe system through our 
three-benchmark gauntlet. The mobo 



76 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



didn't post particularly low scores in 
any of the benchmarks, but aside 
from Doom 3, the A8V Deluxe took 
third place in every category, even 
the four PCMark04 component 
scores. However, the board shined in 
Doom 3, taking the lead with a 
frame rate of 24fps. With this less 
than exciting baseline, we headed 
into the BIOS to see if we could 
boost this system to new heights. 

We skipped to the Advanced sec- 
tion and then selected JumperFree 
Configuration, which refers to ASUS' 
JumperFree overclocking feature — if 
your system crashes, you can often 
reset the system by rebooting it, 
rather than manually clearing the 
CMOS. We like this OC section. 
The CPU FSB Frequency field offers 
settings from 200MHz to 300MHz (in 
1MHz increments), and a separate field, 
Adaptive Overclocking, lets you overclock 
your system by percentages instead of by 
individual megahertz. 

Unlike the GA-K8NSNXP-939, the 
A8V Deluxe system loaded Windows 
without flinching at 210MHz but posted a 
disappointing 2286 in 3DMark05, 35 
points lower than the baseline. We hoped 
to solve the problem with a little juice, so 
we returned to the BIOS and selected the 
CPU Voltage Control settings, which 
offers voltages from 0.8 to 1.75V in 
0.025V increments. Too much voltage can 
zap your system, so we appreciate that 
ASUS offers such small increments. That 
said, we didn't think that a 0.025V 
increase would jump a 35-point gap, so we 
raised the voltage another notch to 1.55V. 

This time, the board's 3DMark05 
score dropped another three points to 
2283. We bumped the voltage again to 
1.6V, but the system returned a score of 
2282. We clearly weren't making any 
progress with 3DMark05, so we ran 
PCMark04 to find out if that score was 
also floundering. Surprisingly enough, 
PCMark04 came back with an overall 
score of 4932, more than 300 points 
higher than the baseline. We decided to 
boost the board's frequency again. 

At 215MHz (2.58GHz), the ASUS 
board finally snapped out of its rut and 







ATX Power 
Connector 



Southbridge 
(VIA VT8237) 



Northbridge 
(VIA KT880) 




turned 3DMark05 in the right direction. 
The A8V Deluxe scored 2294 in 
3DMark05 and posted another significant 
PCMark04 gain with 4932. We were 
relieved — but only momentarily — to see 
the ascending scores; the test system 
crashed out of 3DMark05 at 220MHz. As 
it turned out, the board simply needed a lit- 
tle more juice. When we raised the voltage 
to 1.65V, our system broke 5000 in PC- 
Mark04 and posted 2317 in 3DMark05, 
only four points below the baseline. 

The A8V Deluxe system crashed out of 
3DMark05 at 223MHz and 222MHz, 
even when we pushed the voltage to 1.7V 
and later 1.75V, but it produced its best 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



ABIT AV8-3rd Eye 


Stock Performance 


2488 




Overclocked Performance 


2503 






* ASUS A8V Deluxe 




■ 


Stock Performance 


2321 




Overclocked Performance 


2368 






GIGABYTE GA-K8NSNXP-939 


Stock Performance 


2504 




Overclocked Performance 


2513 





scores at 221MHz (2.65GHz) with a 
1 .75V Vcore. Much to our relief, the 
board finally shook off its baseline 
score in 3DMark05 with 2368 and 
snagged second place in PCMark04 
with 5104. However, the Doom 3 
frame rate dropped just a tad to tie 
with the AV8-3rd Eye at 23.7fps. 
We tried higher frequencies but 
couldn't finish PCMark04 or 
3DMark05. The board almost com- 
pleted 3DMark05 at 225MHz, but 
it clearly wasn't stable — it would 
pause, flip to the Desktop, and sud- 
denly resume. 

Although the A8V Deluxe didn't 
take top honors in PCMark04 or 
3DMark05, it provided solid 
scores. It couldn't quite catch either 
board in 3DMark05, but the A8V 
Deluxe missed top place in PCMark04 by 
only 26 points. Of course, the board's 
greatest claim to fame is that it over- 
clocked higher than either of the other 
processors with a 0.65GHz increase. 

Despite the high overclock, we chose the 
AV8-3rd Eye when we selected a board for 
our watercooled system in the AMD and 
Intel face-off (see "Race For The Gold" on 
page 93). Sure, it pushed the FX-53's FSB 
3MHz higher than the ABIT board, but we 
couldn't overlook the third-place score in 
3DMark05. Although we liked this board 
and had few complaints about the boards 
in this roundup overall, we wanted a moth- 
erboard that produced top-notch scores as 
well as a top-notch overclock, and the 
AV8-3rd Eye is that board. 

Final Word 

Although the A8V Deluxe crashed out 
of 3DMark at most settings, the crashes 
never slowed us down — we simply reboot- 
ed the system and continued. Some of the 
motherboards we tested in other AMD- 
based roundups required us to clear the 
CMOS manually or sometimes even rein- 
stall Windows, so we were glad to see that 
the A8V Deluxe can take care of itself. At 
$130, this is a solid buy. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 77 






CASE STUDIES 



AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 
& GIGABYTE GA- 

K8NSNXP-939 



We wrapped up our FX-53 
roundup with the GIGA- 
BYTE GA-K8NSNXP-939, 
a bright blue board that deserves a case 
window. We planned to use one of the 
socket 939 boards to run our FX-55 in 
our Intel-AMD matchup (see "Race For 
The Gold" on page 93), so we kept a 
close eye on the numbers. 

Motherboard 

The first thing we noticed when we 
looked at the GA-K8NSNXP-939 (aside 
from the fact that the 14-character name 
has one vowel) is that GIGABYTE built 
the DPS (Dual Power System) into the 
board. Until now, the DPS took the form 
of an add-on card near the top of the 
board. The DPS adds a three-phase power 
circuit to the board's built-in three-phase 
circuit. In theory, this system creates a 
more stable motherboard, but it isn't fool- 
proof: We've burned at least two boards 
that had the add-on version of the DPS. 
We like the new, shorter version (DPS 
Gold) much more than its awkward pre- 
decessor because it stays out of our way. 

The GA-K8NSNXP-939 doesn't have 
a third IDE connector but it has plenty of 
SATA ports, thanks to the NVIDIA 
nForce3 Ultra chip, which provides two 
connectors, and the Silicon Image sil3512 
controller, which handles another two 
connectors. As with ASUS, GIGABYTE 
opted for the new Realtek ALC850 audio 
codec and a Gigabit Ethernet controller. 



The only other chip that caught our 
attention is a second BIOS chip. The sec- 
ond chip backs up your main BIOS and 
automatically kicks into gear if you cor- 
rupt the first chip. When you update the 
BIOS, you can enter the Dual BIOS 
properties via the BIOS and copy the new 
version to your backup BIOS. 

If you have SATA hard drives, you'll 
need to run GIGABYTE'S DOS-gauntlet 
before installing Windows. Unlike most 
mobo makers, which simply toss the SATA 
driver files and TEXTSETUP.OEM file 
into a folder on the driver CD, GIGA- 
BYTE wraps them into EXE files. You'll 
need to enter the DOS prompt and then 
pick your driver from a long list of choices 
to transfer the driver to a floppy. We're not 
sure how the manufacturer that created the 
super-easy Q-Flash BIOS update utility 
came up with convoluted system. GIGA- 
BYTE should save you the trouble by toss- 
ing a driver floppy in with the board's 
accessories. 

Speaking of accessories, the driver CD 
includes Symantec Norton Internet 
Security 2004, a nice if slightly outdated 
freebie. The box boasts an audio-port 
expansion module, several SATA cables, 
and an expansion module that lets you 
plug external SATA hard drives into your 
computer. The module appropriates two 
of your SATA connectors, but the board 
has four total, so most users won't mind 
shunting one or two SATA ports to the 
back of the PC. 



System Specs 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 


Processor 


AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 


Motherboard 


GIGABYTE GA- 
K8NSNXP-939 


BIOS 
Manufacturer 


Phoenix Award 


BIOS Version 


GIGABYTE F6 


Chipset Driver 


NVIDIA 503 


Graphics Driver ATI Catalyst 4.10 


RAM 


1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition 
184-pin DDRPC-4400 


Common Components 


Video 


256MB ATI 
RADEON 9800 Pro 


Hard Drive 


Western Digital 
80GB 7,200rpm 


Heatsink 


ThermaltakePIPE101 


CPU Fan 


92mm Vantec Tornado 


Optical Drive 


Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 


Floppy 


Mitsumi 1 .44MB Floppy (silver) 


Power Supply 


470W Enermax EG475AX- 
VE-SFMA Power Supply 


Case 


Lian Li PC-65 



Overclock 

Several of the GA-K8NSNXP-939's 
BIOS updates add information about 
CPUs, so if you haven't already updated, 
be sure to visit GIGABYTE'S site. We like 
the site's layout because once you find the 
board's Web page, you can use the page's 
links to find the appropriate drivers and 
BIOS updates. Some sites require users to 
search for updates by model number — a 
risky process. When you're downloading 
updates at 4 a.m. (you know you've done 
it), you may find yourself trying to install 
the wrong BIOS. That is, unless your 
mobo manufacturer matches the BIOS 
and drivers to the Web page for you. We 
downloaded the Phoenix Award BIOS 
(GIGABYTE version F6) and installed it 
without any trouble, thanks to the easy- 
to-use Q-Flash utility. (You simply put 
the BIOS on a floppy, enter the BIOS, 
and then press F8 to enter Q-Flash.) 



AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 
GIGABYTE GA-K8NSNXP-939 



Stock 

Performance 
Overclocked 
Performance 



Processor 
Speed 

2.4GHz 

2.57GHz 


FSB 

200MHz 

214MHz 



Multiplier Voltage PCMark04 

12 1.5V 4766 

12 1.7V 5032 


PCMark04 
CPU 

4534 

4802 


PCMark04 
Memory 

5569 

5921 


PCMark04 
Graphics 

4131 

4124 


PCMark04 
HDD 

4561 

4562 


3DMark05 Doom 3 

2504 23.5fps 

2513 23.6fps 



78 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Once we flashed the new 
BIOS and installed Windows, we 
took our FX-53 and GA- 
K8NSNXP-939 combo for a 
spin. We didn't change any set- 
tings this time around as we 
wanted to create a stock-settings 
baseline. At 200MHz, the GIGA- 
BYTE system tackled PCMark 
04, posting a respectable 4766, 
only 55 points behind the leader 
of the pack, the ABIT AV8-3rd 
Eye. In fact, the GA-K8NSNXP- 
939 beat out the ABIT board in 
both the Graphics and HDD 
PCMark04 component scores, 
but when the AV8-3rd Eye won 
(CPU, Memory), it won by a 
much larger margin. 

The GA-K8NSNXP-939 
pulled ahead of the AV8-3rd 
Eye by 16 points in 3DMark05 
with a score of 2504, but it took 
third place in Doom 3 with a 
23.5fps frame rate. In our experience, the 
3DMark05 does not necessarily indicate 
how well a system will perform in Doom 
3 and vice versa, which is why we look to 
both and not just one or the other to 
determine a system's 3D capabilities. 

Next, we reentered the BIOS and 
ducked into the PC Health Status section 
to make sure our system wasn't in any kind 
of trouble (yet). We also disabled the aptly 
named CPU Smart FAN Control, which 
adjusts the heatsink fan to match the 
processor's load. Finally, we backed out of 
the Health section and opened GIGA- 
BYTE'S overclocking station, MIT (MB 
Intelligent Tweaker). The section's Item 
Help area displays feature descriptions 
when you select various settings, but you 
probably won't need any help finding your 
way as the sparse section is well organized. 

The first thing we noticed about MIT's 
features is the Normal CPU Vcore cate- 
gory. You can't change this field because 
it displays the processor's default voltage, 
not its current voltage. New overclockers 
should keep this base voltage in mind 
when they raise the Vcore: Too much 
juice can cripple your components. 

We started by selecting the CPU 
Overclock In MHz field (200MHz to 




ATX Power 
Connector 



Gigabit 

Ethernet 

Controller 



Audio Codec 




300MHz in 1MHz increments) and then 
raised it to 210MHz (2.52GHz). Unfor- 
tunately, our system wasn't feeling as ambi- 
tious as we were and refused to POST. We 
didn't want to settle for a clock speed lower 
than 2.5GHz, so we kicked the voltage up 
0.1V and tried again, but without any luck. 
In fact, we never managed to boot the sys- 
tem at 210MHz. However, the GA- 
K8NSNXP-939 woke up at 212MHz with 
a 1.7V Vcore, posting 2516 in 3DMark05 
and 4964 in PCMark04. 



Overclock Comparison 
3DMark05 



ABIT AV8-3rd Eye 


Stock Performance 


2488 




Overclocked Performance 


2503 










Stock Performance 


2321 




Overclocked Performance 


2368 




• GIGABYTE GA-K8NSNXP-939 




■ 


Stock Performance 


2504 




Overclocked Performance 


2513 





Bolstered by our (minor) suc- 
cess, we raised the frequency to 
215MHz. We would have also 
raised the voltage, but it maxes 
out at 1.7V. Sadly, the machine 
again refused to boot at 215- 
MHz, but when we backed it 
down to 214MHz (2.57GHz), 
the GA-K8NSNXP-939 system 
landed a PCMark04 score of 
5032. Its 2513 3DMark05 score 
didn't quite top its 212MHz 
score, but it came close. 

At its max overclocked set- 
tings, the GA-K8NSNXP-939 
lost its PCMark04 Graphics 
component score and placed 
third in PCMark04 overall but 
closed the gap between it and 
the AV8-3rd Eye to 26 points. 
The motherboard also hung 
onto its 3DMark05 score crown 
(albeit by 10 points) and landed 
just behind the other two moth- 
erboards in Doom 3 with a frame rate of 
23.6fps. 

The board also took last place in the 
overclocking category, but we think that its 
overclock shows just how evenly matched 
these three boards are: While the GA- 
K8NSNXP-939 OC'ed to 2.57GHz, the 
AV8-3rd Eye reached 2.62GHz and the 
ASUS A8V Deluxe maxed out at 
2.65GHz. In short, the FSB difference 
between winner and loser is a mere 7MHz. 

Final Word 

We can say without hesitation that any 
of these boards makes a solid choice. Each 
of the boards had its fair share of bench- 
mark wins, and all three provided decent 
overclocks, which, of course, is the reason 
we're here. That said, with such close com- 
petition, benchmarks and clock speeds may 
not tip the scales by themselves — in which 
case you'll have to turn to the onboard fea- 
tures and extras package (and maybe even 
the price if you're in double-overtime). If it 
comes to price, the GA-K8NSNXP-939 
simply can't stay in the ring. At about $192, 
its price tag far outweighs that of the other 
boards, which are about $130 each. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick 



CPU / PC Modder 79 





Budget Graphics Galore 

The Lowdown On 12 Video Cards Under $100 



Every company that develops com- 
puter components understands 
that it must play a constant game 
of one-upmanship to stay competitive, 
and the video card marketplace is a perfect 
example. The two kingpins of video card 
hardware development are, of course, ATI 
and NVIDIA, who release new chipsets 
every year, each with the hopes of taking a 
big lead in the video card race. 

The video card wars mostly benefit 
consumers, pushing technological limits 
upwards so quickly that game developers 
must scramble to take advantage of new 
hardware capabilities. But a side effect of 
this never-ending scrambling is higher 
card prices. Super advanced video cards 
often exceed $400, a chunk of change so 
large that even hardcore gamers balk at 
upgrading once per year. 

Fortunately, both ATI and NVIDIA 
do their best to provide decent cards for 
users on a limited budget. So if you can 
resist the temptations of buying a cutting- 
edge card every year and don't need the 
kind of graphics power required for 
advanced games such as Far Cry, you can 
find a good card for $100 or less. 

We tested an armful of cards with price 
tags of less than $100 to see what kind of 
performance you can expect from these 
modestly priced products. In some cases, 
we found that the ultra-affordable cards 
we found weren't good for much more 
than older games or basic graphics appli- 
cations. However, other inexpensive cards 
did themselves proud by displaying per- 
formance that will offer plenty of value 
for cash-strapped gamers, and for office 
workers tired of the slowdowns they expe- 
rience during graphical presentations. 

How We Tested 

We started this project with a massive 
shopping spree in which we selected 12 
cards, six based on ATI GPUs and six 
equipped with NVIDIA GPUs. Instead 



of sticking with just one manufactur- 
er, we chose products from many differ- 
ent companies, including Chaintech, 
Apollo, Gainward, Jetway, MSI, Tran- 
scend, and others. 

Then we constructed a test PC to serve 
as a foundation for all of our benchmark- 
ing tasks. We started by installing our 
motherboard, an ASUS P4C800-E De- 
luxe, which uses Intel's 875P chipset. To 
make sure our CPU didn't hold our vid- 
eo cards back, we went with a 
3.06MHz Pentium 4 CPU, 
and we went crazy with 
the RAM by inserting 
1GB OCZ EL Du- 
al Channel Series 
Gold Edition DDR 
PC-4400. To help 
our benchmarks 
along, we used a 
7,200RPM Western 
Digital SATA hard 
drive, and to juice every- 
thing, we installed a 480W 
CoolMax fanless power supply. For 
the two PCI Express cards we tested, we 
used an Abit AG8 mobo and a 2.8GHz 
LGA Pentium 4. 

We installed Windows XP Home with 
Service Pack 1 and made sure we used the 
latest drivers for each of our components. 
On the NVIDIA side, we installed 
Force Ware 61.77, and for our ATI cards, 
we used Catalyst 6.14. 

To create a comprehensive list of results, 
we enlisted the help of several benchmark 
applications that offer detailed graphics 
performance statistics. We started by kick- 
ing it old school, using the Quake III 
Arena demo mode at two different resolu- 
tions, 1,024 x 768 and 1,600 x 1,200. 

Then we switched to Futuremark's 
3DMark2001 SE and ran it at default 
settings. To make things more difficult, 
we also used the same company's 
3DMark03 application, properly fitted 




with a patch that negates the optimiza- 
tions a few NVIDIA cards use to boost 
benchmark scores. Some of our graphics 
cards would run only a couple of tests in 
3DMark03, and others refused to run 
these tests at all. Although we did have 
3DMark05 at our disposal, we opted not 
to use it, primarily because our budget- 
priced cards often struggled to complete 
some of the tests in 3DMark03. 

We also ran the benchmark schemes that 
worked through Unreal Tournament 
2003, Halo, and AquaMark3. 
In Aquamark, we ran tests 
at the program's de- 
fault resolution of 
1,024 x 768. In 
Halo, we ran the 
demo mode three 
times, once each at 800 
x600, 1,024x768, and 
1,600 x 1,200. Then we 
ran Unreal Tournament 
2003's demos at 1,024 x 768 
and 1,600 x 1,200. To cap off 
our testing procedure, we attempted to 
overclock each card and then reran several 
of our benchmark programs. 

Play Your Cards 

Our rigorous benchmarking procedures 
helped us discern champs from chumps. 
We weren't impressed with a lot of our 
cards, some of which you won't want to 
consider even for a moment if you plan on 
trying out new titles such as Doom 3 or 
Half Life 2 — for those type of games, 
check out the cards we reviewed in the 
Crank It section of this issue. For you bud- 
get-minded users, though, we did uncover 
a few low-priced gems worth checking out, 
a fact that should comes as a relief to those 
of you who think it's pointless to play 
along with the always intense GPU perfor- 
mance and price wars. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



80 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Albatron NVIDIA 
GeForce PCX 5300 




Most cards with PCI Express 
compatibility currently cost 
more than $100, which is 
why the Albatron PCX5300 is one of 
only two PCI Express cards we reviewed 
for this issue. The big draw of the newer 
PCI Express standard, of course, is that it 
uses an architecture that doubles the 
bandwidth of the 8X AGP bus, meaning 
upstream and downstream data transfer 
rates can exceed 4GBps — plenty of horse- 
power, in other words, for all sorts of 
graphics applications. 

This 5300-based card comes with 
128MB DDR RAM and uses a 64-bit 
memory interface; its core clock speed is 
set to 250MHz, and the memory clock 
speed runs at a default setting of 
350MHz. Unlike so many cards with 
prices of less than $100, this one provides 
support for DirectX 9, and OpenGL 1,5, 
too, so this card will have you covered 
when it comes to vertex and pixel shaders, 
among other vital 3D elements. 

There are three connectors on the rear 
side, including a standard VGA port, an 



S-Video jack, and a DVI connector. To 
help you use each of those ports to its 
fullest, Albatron included a DVI-to-VGA 
adapter and an S-Video-to-RCA adapter. 
Instead of the usual stripped-down soft- 
ware package that we usually see with these 
kinds of cards, there are two discs, one 
containing the driver and the other with a 
role-playing game called Arx Fatalis. 

The Albatron PCX5300 doesn't have 
a lot of tolerance for hardcore overclock- 
ing. We increased the core clock speed 
by only 47MHz, and the memory clock 
speed, though more flexible than many 
cards in this price range, topped out 
at 464MHz. Happily, the moderate 
increases we found in the core and mem- 
ory clock speeds helped boost our bench- 
mark scores appreciably. 

In 3DMark01, our overall score jumped 
by more than 500 points. Although the 
improvements weren't quite as obvious in 
3DMark03 and AquaMark3, the first score 
did rise by 100 points, and the second by 
more than 300 points. Overclocking this 
card will definitely improve your graphics 



performance, whether you're into gaming 
or video editing. 

That said, this card, like a plethora of 
others in the sub-$100 category, isn't a 
tremendous improvement over a mother- 
board with high-quality integrated graph- 
ics, and the DX9 capability is more of a 
marketing frill than a really usable feature. 
At this price, you can find other cards 
that will add more 3D power, faster frame 
rates, and an overall better value than the 
Albatron PCX5300. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 
Chipset 

RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average fps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



Albatron GeForce 
PCX 5300 
PCI Express 
NVIDIA GeForce 
PCX 5300 
128MB 
250MHz 
400MHz 

297/464 



2,048x1,536 
75Hz 

DirectX 9 / 
OpenGL 1.5 
Windows 98/Me/NT 
4.0/2000/XP 

5326 [5864] 

310.3 

282.2 

1113 [1212] 

317 

274 

7986 [8320] 

837 

8422 

13 

9.06 

4.11 



39.6 
15.8 
42.9 
19.1 

114 

47 

N/A 

www.albatron.com.tw 



CPU / PC Modder 81 






CASE STUDIES 



Apollo GeForce4 
MX440-8X 







S-Video Out A'** 


<•> 

Heatsink 



The Apollo GeForce4 MX440-8X 
is a seriously budget-priced card, 
but it has questionable virtues. 
This card can be had for around $60, 
which is great for cash-strapped users, but 
it doesn't have the kind of power that will 
make even desperate buyers think twice 
about spending more. 

As far as extras go, there aren't many 
included here. Apollo threw in the obliga- 
tory driver CD and an S-Video cable, but 
that's it. There are no games, tweaking 
utilities, or other fun toys to add to this 
product's enticement. 

Similar limitations extend to the card's 
overall feature set. This chip is based on 
NVIDIA's older GeForce2 MX technolo- 
gy, and upon its introduction, some hard- 
core hardware abusers cried foul, as the 
GeForce4 MX lacks powers that would 
help justify its price. For example, there's 
no DirectX 9 compatibility included here, 
and in fact, this Apollo product doesn't 
even support DirectX 8, instead relying 
on the aging virtues of DirectX 7. 1 and 
OpenGL 1 .3 to help fight its way through 
the demands of your games and other 
graphics-intensive applications. 



Then again, the chip does use NVIDIA's 
Lightspeed Memory Architecture II tech- 
nology to help boost performance. Unlike 
the GeForce Ti, which incorporated four 
32-bit memory controllers to achieve 128- 
bit capabilities, the GeForce4 MX uses two 
64-bit memory controllers, which might 
create some inefficiencies, but still helps the 
card's benchmark scores in comparison to 
GeForce2 products. 

We forced the core and memory clock 
speeds to much higher than their default 
levels during our overclocking routines. 
At one point, the core clock was set to 
more than 350MHz, and the memory 
clock was higher than 400MHz, alas, our 
benchmark routines crashed when we 
tried to run them. When settled on a core 
speed of 310MHz, and a memory clock 
speed of 357MHz, we found the bit of 
extra speed we were looking for. 

Even with overclocking, this card 
didn't scare 3DMark03 or AquaMark3, 
because the low scores for these applica- 
tions barely budged after we bumped the 
speed settings. However, with the higher 
clock settings, our 3DMark01 scores 
jumped from 3754 to 4000, proving that 



older applications will likely benefit from 
the smidgen of overclocking capability 
this card offers. 

That's still not enough to convince us 
this card is worth its $60 price tag. With 
just a little looking, you'll find cards with 
better 3D features and improved speeds. 
We don't recommend this card for any 
range of PC applications, because any 
current third-party card should have at 
least DX8 compatibility instead of DX7- 
only capability. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 

Chipset 

RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,201 

Phone 

URL 



Apollo GeForce4 

MX440-8X 

AGP8X 

GeForce4 MX440 

128MB DDR 

275MHz 

333MHz 

310/357 



2,048x1,536 
75Hz 

DirectX 7.1 / 
OpenGL 1.3 
Win95/98/Me/2000/ 
XP/Linux 

3754 [4000] 

264.3 

493.6 

135 [140]* 

256.6 

456.3 

3195 [3253] 

324 

8940 

23 

16.67 

5.51 



27.4 
11.1 
28.9 
12.1 




* All tests not possible 



82 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Chaintech NVIDIA 
GeForce FX5700 LE 





* ■■' -'- 


8R 

X* ' 4\ '"' f » '<* '^0^ 


S-VideoOut if* 
VGA Out 




,»- .iff*" "V 

Heatsink 







Until recently, video cards com- 
patible with DirectX 9 cost 
more than $100, but the heat- 
ed competition between ATI and 
NVIDIA is quickly driving down DX 9 
cards, meaning gamers will definitely 
have serious hardware options for the 
intense demands of their 3D play time. 
Although many users opt for the 
GeForce FX5200 when they need DX9 
compatibility on the cheap, there are 
better options, such as this Chaintech 
card, which uses NVIDIA's GeForce 
FX5700 LE GPU. 

Not only does this card support 
DX9, but it's also loaded with plenty of 
other features that will give it more 
longevity than your average sub-$100 
model. With 256MB DDR, it has 
plenty of RAM, but it also has a 15-pin 
D-sub connector, DVI connector, and 
an S-video out jack. At 85Hz, the card's 
maximum resolution is 2,048 x 1,536 
and, of course, it supports AGP 8X. As 
many manufacturers do, Chaintech 
threw in an S-video cable to help com- 
plete the package. 



Straight out of the box, this chipset 
was severely underclocked. That's why, 
when we began fiddling with our over- 
clocking utility, we weren't surprised to 
see that this card responded very well 
to higher clock speeds. We nudged 
the memory clock speed from 500MHz 
to 542MHz, which on its own wouldn't 
have amounted to much performance 
difference, but when paired with our core 
clock increases, made for a huge jump in 
performance — we pushed the 250MHz 
core clock all the way to 450MHz. 

Still, this is no high-end video card, 
and as such, you can't expect it to breeze 
through games such as Far Cry or Doom 
3 without slowdowns — it simply isn't 
equipped to offer high frame rates in 
games with antialiasing or anisotropic 
filtering, but it will offer decent perfor- 
mance for pre-DX9 titles. We saw an 
excellent score of 6761 in 3DMark01 
and a lower but still acceptable rating of 
1624 when we ran 3DMark03. At 13147, 
our AquaMark3 score was very good, and 
it improved by more than 1,000 points 
once we finished overclocking. 



The Chaintech GeForce FX 5700 LE 
is a solid product considering its sub- 
Si 00 price. It comes equipped to com- 
bat connectivity challenges, and as if its 
base speeds weren't fast enough, the 
card handles tremendous overclocking 
speeds with very few problems. Though 
it's an LE (read: stripped down) version 
of the 5700 GPU, there is still plenty of 
horsepower here for average gaming and 
everyday use. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 
Chipset 



Core Clock 
Memory Clock Actual 
(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 
(core clock/memory clock 
in megahertz) 
Max. Resolution 
Refresh Rate at Max. 
Resolution 
APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1,600 x 1,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 




Chaintech GeForce 

FX5700 LE 

AGP8X 

GeForce FX5700 

LE 

256MB 

225 

400 

450/542 



2,048x1,536 
85Hz 

DirectX 9, OpenGL 

1.5 

Windows 

Win9x/Me/2000/XP 

6761 [7876] 

381.9 

812.8 

1624 [1945] 

330.7 

735.8 

13147 [14776] 
1611 [1821] 
3579 [3915] 

21.11 

14.91 
6.42 



55.3 
26 
22.8 
26.5 

125.8 

70.55 

(510)656-3648 

www. chaintech 
usa.com 



CPU / PC Modder 83 






CASE STUDIES 



eVGA NVIDIA 
GeForce FX5200 




Not long ago, NVIDIA set out 
to produce a low-cost chip 
that would handle all of the 
demands of DirectX 9; it eventually set- 
tled on the GeForce FX 5200 GPU. This 
product was meant to produce reasonable 
frame rates in powerful 3D applications 
without overpowering consumers' check- 
ing accounts. 

For starters, the FX5200 has a 128-bit 
architecture, uses four pixel pipelines, and 
per DX9 specs, works with vertex shaders 
2.0+ and pixel shaders 2.0+. On the flip 
side, it doesn't support lossless color and Z 
compression, which could limit antialiasing 
performance and cause other slowdowns. 

The eVGA FX5200 comes with just 
two ports, a VGA connector and an S- 
Video jack. The box contains an S-Video 
cable and basic driver CD, but no printed 
documentation whatsoever. As far as the 
card itself, it uses a low-profile printed 
circuit board, and happily, it forgoes a 
noisy fan for a passive heatsink instead. 

We didn't manage any incredible over- 
clocking numbers with the eVGA card, 
but this product will definitely have value 
for enthusiasts who are never happy with 



stock settings. We pressed the core clock 
speed to a stable setting of 322MHz, and 
also pushed the memory clock speed sig- 
nificantly higher, to 478MHz. 

Unlike other cards we've overclocked, 
these numbers did provide greater 
returns. We managed to improve our 
3DMark01 score by about 600 points, 
and although the increases in 3DMark03 
and AquaMark3 were smaller, the 
numbers did rise by 100 and 400 
points, respectively. 

At default clock speeds the card pro- 
duced better-than-average frame rates in 
our Unreal Tournament 2003 tests. The 
ratings didn't top 20fps at 1,600 x 1,200, 
but when we knocked the resolution 
down to a more reasonable 1,024 x 768, 
we were pleased to see our numbers rise 
to 40fps, and in some cases, even faster, 
which means this card has plenty of mus- 
cle for similar games. 

However, if you're looking for a bud- 
get-priced card that will handle a full load 
of DX9 effects, you'll have to pick a chip 
other than the FX5200. Furthermore, this 
eVGA version of the FX5200, with its 
128MB of RAM, really isn't speedy 



enough to take on games loaded with 3D 
graphical elements. That's a bit of a mar- 
keting problem for eVGA, as this card 
variation can't readily compete with the 
64MB cards that are $20 to $30 cheaper 
and as a result are much more appealing 
to business and home users who have lit- 
tle interest in gaming. Still, if your graph- 
ic loads are average, the FX5200 is worth 
your consideration. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



Vital Statistics 



Video Card 




RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1,600 x 1,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



eVGA NVIDIA 
GeForce FX5200 
AGP8X 

NVIDIA GeForce 
FX5200 
128MB DDR 
250 
400 

322/478 



2,048x1,536 
60Hz 

DirectX 9, OpenGL 

1.4 

Windows 

98/XP/2000/NT/Me 

5049 [5611] 

330.6 

699.6 

1030 [1140] 

326.1 

654.2 

7510 [7897] 
819 [864] 
4499 [4598] 

14.17 

9.86 

4.6 



38.9 
16.2 
45.9 
19.7 

107.8 

58.6 

(888)881-3842 

www.evga.com 



* All tests not possible 



84 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



GAiNmRD NVIDIA 
GeForce FX5200 




The Gainward Pro/660 TV video 
card is based on NVIDIA's 
GeForce FX5200, a GPU that's 
been supremely popular in the sub-$100 
market. Depending on your needs, this 
inexpensive card offers decent perfor- 
mance at a low price. 

Gainward loaded this card with 
128MB DDR RAM, and because the 
card supports DirectX 9, it also supports 
the pixel and vertex shaders 2.0+ that help 
make up so many 3D effects. The card's 
core clock speed is set to 250MHz, and 
memory clock speed sits at a default of 
400MHz. Like many inexpensive cards, 
this one uses a slower and less efficient 
64-bit memory interface instead of a more 
advanced 128-bit interface. 

On the rear of the card, there are three 
ports, including a 1 5-pin VGA port, an S- 
Video jack, and an RCA jack. There are 
no adapters or cables in the box, but you 
do receive a driver CD, manual, and a 
plate that lets you fit the card into a low- 
profile case environment. There is no fan 
on this card, so the only cooling compo- 
nent is a broad red heatsink that won't 
add to the noise pollution emanating 
from your case. 



During the first phase of our tests, we 
weren't overwhelmed by the scores we 
saw from our FX5200-based card. Our 
3DMark01 score, at 3587, was pretty 
average. However, the 3DMark03 score 
of 739 was downright disappointing 
because it wasn't much better than the 
numbers we've seen from some mother- 
boards with integrated graphics. 

In spite of its low preliminary score, 
this card displayed excellent overclocking 
potential. We increased the core clock 
speed by nearly 100MHz and nudged the 
memory clock speed a little higher than 
its default setting, too. 

These changes made a huge difference 
in our benchmarking applications. Our 
3DMark01 score rose by over 1,500 
points with the new clock settings, and 
our AquaMark3 score shot up by nearly 
1,400 points. Even the tougher 
3DMark03 yielded 300 more points to 
our overclocked card. 

A number of manufacturers have 
offered the FX5200 GPU with the 
promise that the product will provide 
DX9 support at a low price. The premise 
here is that cash-strapped users desperate 
for DX9 capability ultimately won't 



mind the agonizing slowdowns they 
encounter when they actually try to put 
this power to use. Don't expect this card, 
or any card based on the FX5200, to 
provide satisfying execution with new 
3D games, but for average games and 
graphics programs, this card will meet 
most of your needs. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 
Chipset 

RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



Gainward NVIDIA 
GeForce FX5200 
AGP8X 

NVIDIA GeForce 
FX5200 
128MB DDR 
250MHz 
266MHz 

341/417 



2,048x1,536 
85Hz 

DirectX 9 / OpenGL 

Windows 95/98/ 
NT/ME/2000/XP 

3587 [5188] 

213.4 

627.1 

739 [1056] 

207.9 

547.5 

6244 [7607] 
675 [831] 
4127 [4521] 

11.99 

8.18 

3.12 



26.4 
10.1 
31.3 
12.4 

86 

42.65 

(510)252-1118 

www.gainwardusa 

.com 



CPU / PC Modder 85 






CASE STUDIES 



MSI GeForce 
MX4000-T128 









* 'Kr 


m&. 




x . 






^ffijfe 


^ 




HHr *<EgQv 


^ 


■ 


Heatsink 


S-Video Out A 








VGA Out 









Not all video cards aspire to 
DirectX 9 greatness. In fact, 
some cards, such as MSI's 
GeForce MX4000, even thumb their 
noses at DirectX 8.1, opting instead to 
support only DirectX 7.1. The question 
for average users is, then, is this card 
worth the investment, even if that invest- 
ment is only around $50? 

For that lowly sum, you really cannot 
expect MSI to lavish you with extras, 
and be forewarned, you won't get any. 
The box contains the video card, a quick 
start guide, and a driver CD, and that's 
it. Your connectivity options are limited 
to a traditional VGA port and an S- 
Video jack. 

To be sure, we've seen lower bench- 
mark scores than we did with this card, 
but those scores typically come from sys- 
tems using integrated graphics. It was 
almost a surprise to see this card work at 
all when it came time to work with 
3DMark03. With its intensive 3D graph- 
ics, 3DMark03 puts even midrange cards 
to task, and it showed no mercy on our 
DX7.1-era MSI product — the final score 
was only 151. 



Overclocking did help this card's 
cause, but not in a substantial way. The 
highest stable speed we managed with the 
core clock speed was 250MHz, and we 
increased the ever crucial memory clock 
speed to 466MHz. Our 3DMark01 score 
did give us some initial hope for improve- 
ment, because the score rose from 4347 
to more than 5000. 

Considering the card's 3D limitations, 
we knew there was no salvaging our 
3DMark03 score, but we tried anyway. 
Our overall score rose to a paltry 164. 

The game demos we used helped con- 
firm that this card will best serve budget 
machines that run only older games and 
basic graphics applications. At a resolu- 
tion of 1,600 x 1,200, the card struggled 
to process demands from Unreal 
Tournament 2003, where it posted an 
average rating of less than 1 5 f p s . In 
Halo, that number dropped to 6.3fps. 
Reducing resolution to 1,024 x 768 
helped some; the frame rates in Unreal 
literally doubled, and Halo's rating 
tripled to ISfps. 

Like the other ultra-budget-priced cards 
we tested, this MSI product doesn't really 



provide the features and speed that are the 
reason most users upgrade from integrated 
video to a third-party AGP card in the 
first place. You're better off spending $20 
more, in which case you can truly find a 
card that will help you put integrated 
video behind you for good. You'll find 
this to be a beautiful thing. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 
Chipset 

RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



MSI NVIDIA Ge- 
Force MX4000-T1 28 
AGP8X 

NVIDIA GeForce 
MX4000 
128MB DDR 
250 
400 

310/466 



2,048x1,536 
60Hz 

DirectX 8.1, 
OpenGL 

Windows 98SE/ME/ 
2000/XP/NT 

4347 [5007] 

324.1 

600.3 

151 [164]* 

373 

666.1 

3337 [3456] 

339 

8969 

25.8 
18.8 
6.3 



31.2 
13.2 
33.7 
14.8 

92.7 

52.9 

(626)581-3001 

www.msicomputer 

.com 



86 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



GeCube 

ATI Radeon 9550 




We should begin our review 
of the GeCube ATI Ra- 
deon 9550 with a bit of 
clarification in regards to nomenclature. 
The 9550 was never really intended for 
the U.S. market, but its low price 
appealed to many card makers who used 
it to create more affordable products. 
Also, you might see some retailers refer 
to GeCube as InfoTek, which is confus- 
ing, but correct, as GeCube is a brand 
name that InfoTek uses to differentiate 
its products. 

As for the 9550 moniker, the card is 
basically a RADEON 9600 but with 
slightly lower specifications; the 9550 uses 
a frequency of 250MHz, in comparison 
to the 9600's 325MHz, but maintains the 
same 128-bit memory bus width. It's tar- 
geted at users who want to make a switch 
from their older video card to obtain 
DirectX 9 compatibility and better gam- 
ing capability. Thus equipped, it makes 
good competition for cards based on 
NVIDIA's FX 5200, FX5500, and 
FX5600XT chips. 

GeCube's 9550 comes with a VGA out 
port, an S- Video jack, and a DVI port to 
help you get the best digital output. The 



company also includes a video cable, a 
driver CD, and a short instruction manu- 
al that walks you through basic configura- 
tion changes. 

We started our overclocking session 
slowly, gradually adding to the memory 
and core clock speeds until they were 
both significantly higher than their 
default settings. After a few minutes, we 
realized that we'd probably pushed our 
card too far, because green lines filled our 
screen, and they remained even after we 
restarted our computer. Normal function 
returned after we let the card cool off for 
a few minutes. After we backed off a little 
on the clock settings, the card ran 
through our benchmark applications 
without any major problems. 

The only real problem was that even 
our higher clock settings didn't improve 
graphics scores. What's more, we couldn't 
execute AquaMark3 with our high over- 
clock settings. To make this program run 
to completion, we had to reduce the core 
and memory clock settings until they 
weren't much higher than the defaults. In 
the end, our overclocked AquaMark3 
scores were actually lower than those we 
reached with stock numbers. 



That said, if you're interested in 
overclocking, this 9550 won't serve 
your purposes. However, if you are still 
lagging behind the times by using a 
DX7- or DX8-era card, the GeCube 
9550 will give your system much better 
graphics performance. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 
Chipset 

RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



GeCube ATI 

RADEON 9550 

AGP8X 

ATI RADEON 9550 

128MB DDR 

250MHz 

400MHz 

365/225 



2,048x1,536 
60Hz 

DirectX 9.1 / 
OpenGL 

Win98/Me/NT 4.0/ 
2000/XP 

5319 [5375] 

312.1 

978.3 

1501 [1502] 

272 

946.3 

9513 [9345] 

1056 

4778 

23 
16 
7.01 



42.4 
16.2 
52.3 
21.8 

134.3 

44.2 

(909)468-1988 

www.gecube 

.com/mbu 



CPU / PC Modder 87 






CASE STUDIES 



HIS Excalibur 9250 







VGA Out f^% 
S-VideoOut \fr 

DVI Out 


\ 


Heatsink 







When it was first introduced, 
many users made the as- 
sumption that the 9250 was 
a DirectX 9-compatible version of the 
9200. The reality is that the 9250 sup- 
ports only DX8.1 (and OpenGL 1.3), 
and at 240MHz, it actually has a slightly 
slower clock speed than 250MHz 9200 
cards. Another difference — the 9250 is 
available in either 64- or 128-bit versions, 
while the 9200 is sold with only 64-bit 
capability. The 9250 we tested was of the 
64-bit variety. 

This card has a 15-pin VGA out port, 
an S-Video jack, and for users who've 
made the leap to digital displays, a DVI 
port. The box contains an S-Video cable, 
manual, and driver CD. 

Because of its DirectX limitations, the 
Excalibur 9250 wouldn't execute all of 
our benchmark processes. For example, 
without pixel shader 2.0 support, we 
couldn't run several of the more detailed 
tests in 3DMark03. 

Switching to our game demos didn't 
help this card's cause. We ran our Halo 
demo at a resolution of 800 x 600, but 
even at this relatively low setting, we saw 



an inadequate 15fps rating. Our Unreal 
Tournament 2003 scores were better; in 
part of this demo, the card managed a 
speed of 30.7fps when we used a resolu- 
tion of 1,024 x 768. As it is an older 
game with less demanding graphics, 
Quake III produced better scores of 
74.2fps and 32fps at 1,024 x 768 and 
1,600 x 1,200, respectively. 

The Excalibur 9250 didn't wow us 
with its capacity for overclocking. No 
matter how we modified the core and 
memory clock speeds, the card's speeds 
stayed pretty much the same. We found a 
stable core clock speed of 295MHz, 
which was nearly 60MHz higher than the 
default setting, but the highest stable 
memory clock speed we achieved was 
171MHz, just barely higher than the 
stock numbers. 

Unfortunately, those minor changes 
didn't help us increase benchmark scores. 
In fact, in each of our applications, the 
final scores dropped a little after we tried 
our overclocked settings. 

We don't offer many recommenda- 
tions on this card, other than that we 
think most games and typical home users 



will probably want to find something 
more suited to their specific needs. 
Gamers will want something that's just 
flat-out faster, and to that end, a different 
chip is necessary. Home users who need 
the services of graphics software can find a 
cheaper 64-bit card that will accomplish 
as much as this 9250. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



Vital Statistics 



Video Card 




RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1,600 x 1,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



HIS Excalibur 9250 

AGP8X 

ATI RADEON 9250 

128MB DDR 

240 

330 

295/171 



2,048x1,536 



DirectX 8.1 / 
OpenGL 

Win98/Me/NT 4.0/ 
2000/XP 

4135 [4139] 

271.8 

931.1 

648 [647] * 

249.7 

896.8 

741 1 [7397] 

807 

4497 

15 

11.19 

5.2 



24 
10.1 
30.7 
14.5 

74.8 

32 

None 

www.hisdigital.com 



88 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Jetvbvy ATI Radeon 
9200LE 




Jetway's ATI RADEON 9200LE is 
a super affordable video card that 
will help some users escape the dol- 
drums of integrated video. However, as 
we found, a card this inexpensive comes 
with serious limitations. 

Those limitations are immediately ap- 
parent. The regular 9200 card has 128-bit 
capability, but the LE version uses a 
stripped-down 64-bit memory bit inter- 
face. This card does have full support for 
pixel and vertex shaders, but unfortunate- 
ly, that support extends to DirectX 8.1 
instead of DirectX 9. 

This card didn't post remarkable 
scores in any of our benchmarking appli- 
cations. Our overall 3DMark01 score was 
4769. The AquaMark3 score we recorded 
was better than with some of the other 
budget-priced cards we've tested, but at 
8100, it was still too low to give us a lot 
of confidence. 

Our demo tests displayed showed that 
this Jetway product does have potential 
for older games. For example, when we 
set Unreal Tournament 2003 to a resolu- 
tion of 1,024 x 768, the average speed in 
Phobos2 was a healthy 37fps. At the same 



resolution, Quake III posted an average of 
well over 120fps. Our Halo demo showed 
that this card's 3D capabilities simply 
aren't up to par, however, because even at 
a lowly resolution of 800 x 600, we saw 
only 17fps. That's not nearly fast enough 
for smooth gameplay, so by extension, 
don't expect this card to offer even usable 
performance when it comes to today's 
newer titles. 

We overclocked this card using ATI's 
Tray Tools utility. The card didn't run 
stably at very high speeds, but we did 
improve the core clock speed from 250 to 
290MHz and the stepped the 200MHz 
memory clock speed up to 215MHz. 

Overclocking the card didn't cause any 
drastic upswing in our benchmark scores. 
Our 3DMark01 score was actually lower 
than when we used the card's stock set- 
tings, and our 3DMark03 score was near- 
ly identical to the one we first recorded. 
So if you're looking for a card that offers 
maximum performance only when you 
overclock, this Jetway is not the answer. 

Because this card costs less than $50, 
it's hard for us to us to gripe about the 
fact that it doesn't include full support for 



DX9, and we really can't diss it too harsh- 
ly for its low benchmark scores, either. 
However, this card's performance is inad- 
equate for most 3D gaming purposes, and 
because its overall scores were so low, it's 
also unlikely to add much value to a sys- 
tem that's equipped with decent integrat- 
ed video capabilities. For a few bucks 
more, you can hold out and buy a faster 
card that will enhance your system's video 
for every type of PC task. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 

Chipset 

RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1 ,024 x 768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



Jetway ATI Radeon 

9200LE 

AGP8X 

ATI Radeon 9200LE 

128MB DDR 

250MHz 

400MHz 

290/215 



2,048x1,536 
Not specified 

DirectX 8.1 / 
OpenGL 

Win98/XP/Me/NT/ 
2000 

4769 [4764] 

332.2 

981.5 

761 [771]* 

299.1 

960.3 

8100 [8158] 

891 

4,501 

17 

12.47 

5.93 



28.7 
12.5 
37.3 
18.2 

128.2 
57.05 
None 
www.jetway.com.tw 



* All tests not possible 



CPU / PC Modder 89 






CASE STUDIES 



Jetway ATI Radeon 9550 
(256MB) 




The Jetway ATI RADEON 9550 
is the second card we reviewed 
based on ATI's 9550 chip. Un- 
like the 128MB GeCube version, how- 
ever, the Jetway model costs about $15 
more and comes loaded with 256MB 
DDR RAM. If you don't believe extra 
RAM makes much of a difference in per- 
formance when it comes to graphics 
cards, think again. 

The 9550 uses the same R350/360 
core that's found in the 9600 PRO and 
XT, but it doesn't have the same kind of 
pixel power of its big brothers. It uses a 
128-bit memory interface and has a maxi- 
mum memory bandwidth of 6.4GBps 
second. For improved performance, the 
card uses four parallel rendering pipelines 
and two parallel geometry engines, and 
like all budget-priced cards should, it pro- 
vides support for 8X AGP. 

Careful shoppers should note that 
there is also an SE version of the 9550, 
but as this card has 64-bit engine, it's 
much slower than the letter-less 9550. 
For those who need a way to generalize a 
card's performance, the 9550's overall 



punch is somewhere between the 9600SE 
and the 9600Pro. 

Jetway didn't ship a lot of frills with 
this card, including just an S-Video cable, 
users manual, and driver CD. The card 
does have DVI capabilities, but there are 
no adapters or connectors to help you get 
the most from this feature. 

We didn't mind the lack of extras after 
we zipped through our graphics tests 
with no problems whatsoever. For a card 
that costs only about $85, we posted 
some solid numbers, with a 3DMark01 
that topped 8000, a 3DMark03 score of 
221 1, and an AquaMark3 score that shot 
past 11000, indicating this card has 
enough zip to help run many of today's 
high-end games, though not at maximum 
detail levels. 

It's a good thing we were happy with 
those scores, because this card didn't have 
much headroom for overclocking. We did 
push the core clock speed very high, but 
after some testing, we backed off to a set- 
ting of 375MHz. The memory clock 
speed was practically intractable — using 
Tray Tools, we managed a stable setting 



of only 212MHz. Those low overclocks 
weren't high enough to make a real differ- 
ence in our benchmark scores. 

Although it won't provide much over- 
clocking excitement, and Jetway didn't 
include a lot of exciting features with this 
product, the 9550 is a big step up for any- 
one who's been stuck using a DirectX7- 
or DirectX8-level card. And if you like 
the 9550 GPU, be sure to opt for the 
256MB version that will give you the 
most bang for your buck. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 




Vital Statistics 

Video Card 

Interface 

Chipset 

RAM 

Core Clock 

Memory Clock Actual 

(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 

(core clock/memory clock 

in megahertz) 

Max. Resolution 

Refresh Rate at Max. 

Resolution 

APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 




Jetway ATI RADEON 

9550 

AGP8X 

ATI RADEON 9550 

256MB DDR 

250MHz 

400MHz 

375/212 



2,048x1,536 
60Hz 

DirectX 9 / OpenGL 

Win98/XP/Me/2000 



8011 [8077] 

668.4 

993.4 

2211 [2209] 

592.2 

986.2 

11028(10759] 

1242 

4945 

26 
19 
8.62 



64.1 
29.3 
80.8 
39.1 

189.7 

69.5 

None 

www.jetway.com.tw 



90 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



PowerColor X300 SE 




AGP has nothing on PCI Express, 
the newer graphics card slot 
standard that doubles the band- 
width of AGP 8X. To let budget-con- 
scious users take advantage of that extra 
bandwidth, PowerColor offers its X300 
SE, an ATI RADEON-based card with 
enough zip to help you run a full range of 
games and graphics applications. 

The PowerColor X300 SE comes with 
128MB DDR RAM, an S-Video jack, and 
a DVI connector. Unlike many sub-SlOO 
cards, this one comes with refinements and 
frills missing from other products. Power- 
Color includes a thick printed manual to 
assist you with setup and configuration, a 
DVI-to-VGA adapter, and three cables 
(RCA, S-Video-to-RCA, S-Video) to help 
you resolve a wide range of video connec- 
tivity problems. In addition, you receive 
two CDs, a driver CD, and a CyberLink 
DVD software suite that includes Power- 
Director SE+ (a video editing package), 
MediaShow SE (a slide show creator that 
includes special effects utilities such as 
photo retouching), PowerDVD (a DVD 
media player), PowerProducer DVD (a 
utility that turns home movies into 
DVDs), and Power-2Go (a CD/DVD 
burning utility). 



The X300 SE GPU is one of the first 
PCI Express graphics cards that ATI 
specifically developed for the budget end 
of the market, meaning it's not just a 
stripped-down version of the company's 
more expensive products. This GPU is 
equipped with four pixel pipelines, two 
shader pipelines, and, as indicated by the 
SE at the end of the card's name, a 64-bit 
memory architecture. It also offers full 
DirectX 9 support. 

Our initial overclocking attempts with 
this PowerColor card met with disaster. 
We started by increasing the core clock 
speed, and about a minute later, we 
smelled a telling electrical stench that 
invariably says you've pushed a compo- 
nent past its breaking point. Of the 12 
video cards we tested, this one was the 
only one to burn up prematurely, but we 
don't stress this particular event as a fail- 
ing point of this product, primarily be- 
cause the overclocking tolerances of each 
model vary from unit to unit, no matter 
the brand. 

Armed with a new card, we tried a sec- 
ond, more cautious round of overclock- 
ing. This time we safely increased the core 
clock speed to 376MHz and upped the 
memory clock speed to 238MHz. The 



higher speeds paid off, as they boosted 
our 3DMark01 and 3DMark03 bench- 
mark scores by approximately 1000 and 
300 points, respectively. 

Our tests showed that this card is 
insufficient for users who need the kind 
of fast 3D rendering that the newest 
games require. However, this is a high- 
quality product that will provide accept- 
able performance for older PC games and 
for the graphics applications most home 
users employ. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



Vital Statistics 



Video Card 




Memory Clock Actual 
(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 
(core clock/memory clock 
in megahertz) 
Max. Resolution 
Refresh Rate at Max. 
Resolution 
APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1 ,600 x 1 ,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



PowerColor X300 

SE 

PCI Express 

ATI X300 SE 

128MB DDR 

325 

400 

376 / 238 



2,048x1,536 
Not specified 

DirectX 9 / OpenGL 
1.5 

Win98/Me/NT 
4.0/2000/XP 

6027 [7089] 

327.5 

1259.40 

1599 [1879] 

321 

1092 

14324 [16020] 

1566 

8402 

27 
19 
8.28 



40.3 
16.6 
47.1 
21.7 

136 

44 

(626) 336-6845 

www. power-color 

.com 



CPU / PC Modder 91 






CASE STUDIES 



Transcend ATI Radeon 
9600SE 







^ 


&L 

^^^ 


St 


^-1 


sit 


^^ 


Jgg 


y 




VGA Out J^$* ; ? >^ 

DVI Out * ( 
S-Video Out 


. 


Heatsink 





ATI's Radeon 9600 line features 
the potent Pro and XT chips, 
both of which will zip through 
most 3D applications with no problems. 
However, those chips have prices well 
above our $100 price limit, which leaves 
us with only the lower-end 9600SE for 
testing purposes. 

The biggest difference in the SE ver- 
sion is that it comes with a 64-bit inter- 
face that makes it significantly slower 
than its 128-bit brethren. With the de- 
fault memory speed set to 200MHz, this 
card offers memory bandwidth of around 
3.2GBps, which creates a bit of a problem 
when it comes time to memory intensive 
features such as anti-aliasing; in compari- 
son, both the XT and Pro card versions 
have memory bandwidths of 9.6GBps, 
three times the SE's. 

Transcend packaged some notable 
extras with its 9600SE. In the box, you 
receive an S-Video cable, a DVI-to-VGA 
adapter, a driver CD, and a clear yet con- 
cise users manual that offers basic setup 
instructions for the card. 

This card has four parallel rendering 
pipelines and two parallel geometry en- 
gines, a 64-bit memory interface, AGP 
8X support, and 128MB DDR RAM. It's 



also equipped with a full range of render- 
ing technologies, including Smartshader 
2.0, Smoothvision 2.1, Hyper Z III + , 
Truform 2.0, and Videoshader, all of 
which help boost this card's overall per- 
formance scores. 

In 3DMark01, we recorded a solid 
6175 points, and although our 3DMark- 
03 numbers were lower, our card did 
achieve an acceptable score of 1674. Our 
AquaMark3 scored topped 10000. 

When we ran the demo in Quake III at 
1,024 x 768, we saw super high speeds of 
I46fps, and even at 1,600 x 1,200, those 
rates were nearly 50fps. Halo was much 
slower at high resolution, but when we 
switched to a resolution of 1,024 x 768, 
speeds jumped significantly, to 19fps. 

It's a good thing that this card provides 
better-than-average performance right out 
of the box, because we didn't have much 
success with our overclocking efforts. We 
pushed the core clock speed very high — 
all the way to 488MHz — but we in- 
creased the memory clock speed to only 
212MHz. Without a higher memory 
clock speed, our overclocking sessions 
didn't pay any real dividends, and in fact, 
the higher core speed typically lowered 
scores dramatically. 



When they were first introduced, cards 
based on the 9600SE chip were well over 
$100, and at that price, you could cer- 
tainly do better than this ATI product. 
However, we paid a middling $70 for our 
card, and with a little rooting around 
online, you'll likely score an even lower 
price. That makes this card an affordable 
option for gamers who want decent per- 
formance that requires no tweaking what- 
soever; overclockers and enthusiasts may 
want to look elsewhere. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



Vital Statistics 



Video Card 




Memory Clock Actual 
(Effective) 

Overclocked Maximums 
(core clock/memory clock 
in megahertz) 
Max. Resolution 
Refresh Rate at Max. 
Resolution 
APIs Supported 

Operating Systems 

3DMark2001 SE 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

3DMark03 

3D Marks [overclocked] 

Fill Rate (single texture) 

Fill Rate (multitexture) 

AquaMark 3 at 32-bit 

Default Test [overclocked] 

GFX [overclocked] 

CPU [overclocked] 

Halo 

800 x 600 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Unreal Tournament 2003 

at 32-bit (average f ps) 

Anatalus 1,024x768 

Anatalus 1,600x1,200 

Phobos2 1 ,024 x 768 

Phobos2 1,600x1,200 

Quake III Arena at 32-bit 

1,024x768 

1,600x1,200 

Phone 

URL 



Transcend ATI 
RADEON 9600SE 
AGP8X 
Radeon 9600SE 
128MB DDR 
325MHz 
200MHz 

370/212 



2,048x1,536 
60Hz 

DirectX 9 / OpenGL 

2.0 

WinXP/2000/Me 



6175 [3279] 

379 

1261 

1674 [1231] 
328 

1128 

10476[*] 

1176 

4781 

26 
19 
8.5 



43.4 

18 

51.5 

23.9 

146 
48 

www.transcendusa 
.com 



* Could not complete test with overclocked settings 



92 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




Race For The Gold 

AMD vs. Intel For The Performance Crown 



What do you think of when 
you think of the all-time 
greatest rivalries? Texas vs. 
Oklahoma, Yankees vs. Red Sox, or Al 
Davis vs. the NFL? If so, you probably 
picked up the wrong magazine by mis- 
take. If Windows vs. Macintosh vs. Linux 
or NVIDIA vs. ATI come to mind, then 
you're in the right place. 



For tech rivalries, it doesn't get any 
better than AMD vs. Intel. Once again, 
it's time to pit the best that both compa- 
nies have to offer against one another in 
battle for ultimate supremacy. 

In one corner of the ring, we have the 
Athlon 64 FX-55, the newest member of 
AMD's successful enthusiast chip. 
Gamers, overclockers, and anyone who 




has a moral beef with locked multipliers 
favor these fast-but-expensive beasts over 
their less flashy but nearly identical sib- 
lings, the plain of Athlon 64s. The FX- 
53s' 939-pin versions of the Athlon 64 
have more similarities than differences: 
AMD builds both chip families with the 
same 130nm SOI process and they share 
the same 128KB (64KB data and 64KB 
instruction) LI cache. But the FX series 
CPUs have unlocked multipliers and, 
thus far, the fastest FX processor always 
has an edge over the standard Athlon 64. 
The FX-53, for example, had the same 
clock speed as the then-fastest Athlon 64 
(the 3800+), but the FX-53 boasted a 
1MB L2 cache to the other chip's 512KB. 
With the Athlon 64 4000+, the standard 
CPUs caught up to the FX series on the 
L2 cache side, but the FX-55 has a higher 
clock speed by 200MHz. 

When we last matched up the AMD's 
and Intel's finest (PC Modder VI. 1), our 
FX-53 simply couldn't keep pace with the 
3.4GHz P4 Extreme Edition. But that 
was back when the FX series was young 
and just finding its groove. With the FX- 
55, AMD has introduced a truly formida- 
ble contender. The new CPU has the 
same Sledgehammer core and hefty 1MB 
L2 cache as its older sibling, but it boasts 
a 2.6GHz clock speed to the FX-53's 
2.4GHz. Of course, speed has a price. 
And in this case, that price is just 20 
bucks shy of $900. We've sold cars for 
less, but then, an automobile can't raise 
your Doom 3 frame rates. 

In the opposite corner is the behemoth 
that put the "tel" in "Wintel." Once again, 



The good news about socket 939 mobos is that 
all of them have identical holes on either side of 
the CPU. Thanks to this setup, you can remove 
any board's retention frame and then attach the 
copper waterblock to the motherboard. 



CPU / PC Modder 93 






IMEWE 






Intel's 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme 
Edition will represent the perennial 
processor powerhouse. We used a 3.4GHz 
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition in our last 
issue of PC Modder, but this isn't exactly 
the same processor. Since our last PC 
Modder, Intel has introduced a couple of 
major new chipsets: the 915 and 925. 
Both chipsets support a number of new 
features including PCI Express and 
DDR2. The new chipset also uses a new 
processor socket known as LGA775. The 
new socket means bidding adieu to our 
old socket 478 Pentium 4 Extreme 
Edition we used in our last PC Modder 
and saying bonjour to the new LGA775 
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. 

The new processor will let us use 
Intel's new chipsets that support PCI-E 
and DDR2 technologies. While the 
3.4GHz P4 EE comes in a shiny new 
package, not much has changed under the 
hood. The processor's main draw is its 
2MB of L3 Cache (in addition to its 
512KB of L2 Cache and 8KB LI Data 
cache). While Intel's new Prescott cores 
are manufactured using a 90nm fabrica- 
tion technology, the 3.4GHz P4 EE uses 
a Gallatin core produced using a 130nm 
fabrication process. Smaller transistors are 
usually better, but the Gallatin core does 
have some advantages over Prescott. The 
instruction pipeline, for instance, is short- 
er in Gallatin and Northwood cores. The 
downside to 130nm transistors, however, 
is that it's going to be difficult to over- 
clock this processor. If you think the 
Athlon 64 FX-55 is expensive, however, 
the 3.4GHz P4 EE will send you into a 
sticker-shocked-induced comma. Intel's 
best comes in at more than $1,000. 

Test Systems & Methodology 

In previous Modder issues, we used 
phase-change cooling to get the most 
from our respective combatants. Intel, 
however, threw an LGA775-sized wrench 
into our cooling plans this time around. 
The new socket was incompatible with 
existing socket 478 adapters, forcing us to 
retire our phase-change cooler for an 
Asetek watercooling system. 

In addition to the cooling system, 
we used the same hard drive and optical 



System Specifications 



Processor, Motherboard & Drivers 

Processors 

Motherboard 

Chipset Driver 

Graphics Driver 

RAM 



Video 

Common Components 
Hard Drive 
Watercooling 

Optical Drive 
Floppy 

Power Supply 
Case 



(AMD) Athlon 64 FX-53 (Intel) 3.4GHz P4 Extreme Edition 

(AMD) ASUS A8V Deluxe (Intel) ASUS P5AD2 Premium 

(AMD) VIA 455 (Intel) 6.0.1 .1002 

ATI Catalyst 4.10 

(AMD) 1GB (512x2) OCZ EL Dual Channel Series Gold 

Edition 184-pin DDR PC-4400 (Intel) 1GB (512x2) OCZ 

Platinum Enhanced PC4200 DDR2 

(AMD) GIGABYTE RADEON X800 XT - AGP 

(Intel) ASUSRADEON X800 XT - PCI-E 

Western Digital 80GB 7,200rpm 

Asetek WaterChill CPU Cooler (AMD) Antartica Water 

Block (Intel) Thermaltake Water Block 

Samsung SM-352B/RNSF 

Mitsumi 1.44MB Floppy (silver) 

470W Enermax EG475AX-VE-SFMA Power Supply 

Lian Li PC-65 



drive for each test system. AMD doesn't 
support PCI-E or DDR2, but we saw no 
reason to penalize Intel for AMD's short- 
comings. Although we'll use a PCI-E 
video card and DDR2 in our Intel sys- 
tem, we still tried to keep components as 
similar as possible. We used a GIGA- 
BYTE AGP RADEON X800XT video 
card for our AMD system and an ASUS 
PCI-E xl6 RADEON X800XT for our 
Intel system. We also used OCZ memory 
in both systems, although we used 
DDR400 in the AMD system and 
DDR2-533 in our Intel system. 

We relied on three apps for testing. 
PCMark04 (Build 120) provided us with 
a synthetic benchmark that tested the 
overall system along with individual com- 
ponents (namely the processor, memory, 
graphics card, and hard drive). 3D- 
Mark05 (Build 110) provided a decent 
indication of our overall system's gaming 
and multimedia performance. Finally, 
Doom 3 provided a look at how well each 
system ran one of the more demanding 
games on the market. We ran the stan- 
dard Doom 3 timedemo at High Quality 
at a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 with 2X 
antialiasing. We ran all three benchmarks 
at stock speeds and then ran 3DMark05 
each time we overclocked. We ran the 
two remaining benchmarks using the set- 
tings from our fastest 3DMark05 score. 
We also used ATI Tools to overclock each 
X800XT and squeeze even more perfor- 
mance out of each system. 



AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 
& ASUS A8V Deluxe 

Several socket 939 motherboards per- 
formed well in our previous Case Studies, 
so we faced an agonizing decision when 
we set out to choose the best mother- 
board for our high-end face-off. And as 
fate would have it, we ended up making 
that decision twice. 

Motherboard 1. Earlier, we over- 
clocked the FX-53 on three mother- 
boards, all of which performed well: the 
ABIT AV8-3rd Eye, ASUS A8V Deluxe, 
and the GIGABYTE GA-K8NSNXP- 
939. We also overclocked a few other 
socket 939 boards, but these three really 
caught our attention. After some debate, 
we chose the ABIT AV8-3rd Eye. The 
board didn't produce the highest over- 
clock, but it offered consistently high 
scores in all three benchmarks. In fact, it 
only produced a second-best score in 
3DMark05, landing 10 points behind the 
winner. We also liked the board's wide 
array of BIOS overclocking options and 
the uGuru Clock, an external device that 
displays system temps and clock speeds. 

We thought the test system's baseline 
scores were a little low, considering the 
heavy-duty processor and graphics card 
(it posted a mere 3497 in 3DMark05 
and 4355 in PCMark 04), but we didn't 
suspect any real trouble. The PC over- 
clocked to 216MHz with a 1.65V Vcore 
without much trouble but crashed out 



94 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












1 - 


■ g 


r ^^ 


BO>~ 




The kludge is on. We were forced to borrow a Thermaltake water block from another kit to use with our LGA775 board. The water block's smaller 
3/8-inch outer diameter tubing fit inside the kit's larger 3/8-inch inner diameter tubing. 



of 3DMark05 and rebooted at 
218MHz. It crashed and rebooted again 
at 1.7V, but at 1.75V and 1.8V, the sys- 
tem simply crashed to the Desktop dur- 
ing 3DMark05. We thought the extra 
voltage was stabilizing the system, so we 
raised the voltage another 0.05V to 
1.85V. Immediately, the board emitted 
a brief phssst sound and the system shut 
down — for good. 

We returned to our remaining boards 
and settled on the ASUS A8V Deluxe. 
Although it failed to secure the top scores 
in either PCMark05 or 3DMark05, it 
produced the top overclock and tied the 
ABIT board in Doom 3, and high over- 
clocks were what we wanted. Coby and 
Andy, our gracious and patient techs, 



swapped out the boards, reinstalled 
Windows XP Pro and the drivers, and 
then handed the reins back to us. 

Motherboard 2. As with the ABIT 
board, the ASUS A8V Deluxe boasts 
VIA's K8T800 Pro and VT8237 chipset. 
ASUS took advantage of a Promise con- 
troller and the VT8237's support for two 
SATA ports to put a total of four SATA 
connectors on the board. It also added a 
third IDE RAID connector. A VIA 
VT6307 chip handles the board's two 
Fire Wire (400Mbps) ports, one of which 
is an internal connector. If your chassis 
doesn't have a front-panel FireWire port, 
you can still take advantage of the con- 
nector by attaching the included single- 
port expansion module. 



We like the overall layout of the 
board. The northbridge has only an alu- 
minum heatsink, but you can retask the 
nearby power fan connector if you're 
really aching for a fan. We took the 
heatsink off and replaced it with our 
watercooling system's northbridge 
waterblock. We noticed that the four 
dual-channel memory slots stand next to 
the CPU socket retention frame, but we 
doubt that you'll run into any trouble 
when installing even large heatsinks, 
thanks to a small gap between the com- 
ponents. Our waterblock was no wider 
than the retention frame, so it didn't 
infringe on the memory modules. 

We also like the CMOS jumper near 
the bottom of the board. If you need to 



CPU / PC Modder 95 






WISMffi 






clear the CMOS, you can easily reach 
the jumper (when your computer is off 
and unplugged), move it over one pin, 
and then return the jumper to its origi- 
nal position. Our only complaint about 
the board's layout is the 12V ATX con- 
nector, which stands at the top-left cor- 
ner of the board. If your PSU cables 
have thick protective wraps, you may 
have a little trouble preventing the cord 
from leaning on your heatsink (which 
can lift the heatsink ever so slightly off 
the CPU). 

Overclock. Once we disabled the 
Power Management feature in APM 
Configuration and the CPU Q-Fan 
Control in the Hardware Monitor section 
(which also houses your system's health 
information), we scouted out the board's 
overclocking tools. 



CPU Speed/Voltage Setting field from 
Auto to Manual. Before we dug into the 
board's OC tools, we loaded Windows 
and the appropriate drivers and then ran 
the benchmarks at stock settings to get 
baseline scores. 

As it turned out, our deceased AV8- 
3rd Eye was hurting from the very begin- 
ning of our FX-55 overclocking session; 
the A8V Deluxe's baseline scores were so 
much higher than the AV8-3rd Eye's 
baseline that we can't explain the gap by 
simply saying the A8V Deluxe is a better 
mobo, especially after the two boards 
fought such a close battle in our Case 
Studies section. 

At stock settings, the A8V Deluxe pro- 
duced a score of 5496 in 3DMark05 and 
5053 in PCMark04, well above the AV8- 
3rd Eye's baseline scores. And the gap 



220MHz (2.86GHz), at which point it 
crashed out of 3DMark05 and then 
rebooted. We had already successfully run 
the system at 218MHz, so we backed 
down to 219MHz and tried again. 

The A8V Deluxe system didn't like 
this frequency either and crashed in the 
same way it had at 220MHz, but the rig 
found its groove again when we bumped 
the voltage from 1.55V. It posted decent 
increases in all three benchmarks with a 
5540 in 3DMark05, 5482 in PCMark04, 
and 53.2fps in Doom 3. This time, the 
system completed the benchmarks 
at 220MHz and at 222MHz. But at 
224MHz, the system couldn't load 
WinXP and refused to even load the OS 
at default settings. 

We reinstalled Windows, returned the 
frequency and CPU voltage to 222MHz 



AMD 



Processor 
Speed 

Stock 2.6GHz 

Performance 

Overclocked 2.91 GHz 
Performance 



FSB 

200MHz 



224MHz 



Multiplier Voltage 

13 1.5V 

13 1.65V 


AGP AGP DDR DDR 
Frequency Voltage Voltage Timings 

66 1.5 Auto CL 2.5-4- 

4-8 

66 1.5 Auto CL 2.5-4- 

4-8 


Graphics 
Card GPU 
/Memory 

500MHz 
/1000MHz 
530MHz 
/1080MHz 


PCMark PCMark 
04 04 CPU 

5053 4902 

5582 5429 



Intel 



Processor 
Speed 

Stock 3.4GHz 

Performance 

Overclocked 3.83GHz 
Performance 



FSB 

200MHz 



225MHz 



Multiplier Voltage 

17 1.575V 

17 1.6500V 


Memory PCI-E PCI-E DDR2 
Frequency Frequency Voltage Timings 

533MHz Auto Auto CL 4-3-3- 

12 

600MHz Auto Auto CL 4-3-3- 

12 


Graphics 
Card GPU 
/Memory 

500MHz 
/500MHz 
544.5MHz/ 
585MHz 


PCMark PCMark 
04 04 CPU 

5373 5262 

5841 5804 



If you're looking for overclocking 
options (aside from memory settings), 
you're looking for the BIOS' JumperFree 
Configuration page, which is in the 
Advanced section. The page has only one 
field: AI Overclocking. You'll need to 
switch it from Auto to Manual, at which 
point the board's overclocking features 
appear. This new page has several settings, 
including the CPU FSB Frequency field 
(200 to 300MHz in 1MHz increments), 
DDR Voltage (Auto, 2.6V, 2.7V, and 
2.8V), and AGP Voltage (1.5V or 1.6V). 
To display the CPU Multiplier and CPU 
Voltage fields, you'll need to switch the 



widened even further when we ran the 
Doom 3 timedemo; the A8V Deluxe 
posted a frame rate of 52.5fps to the 
AV8-3rd Eye's 27.7fps. 

New baseline scores in hand, we re- 
entered the BIOS and raised the frequency 
from 200MHz to 205MHz. The system 
responded to the increase right away, post- 
ing a mere four-point increase in 
3DMark05, but a more sizeable 92-point 
increase in PCMark04. When we raised 
the frequency another 10MHz, the Doom 
3 frame rate jumped 0.5fps to 53fps. The 
system ran the benchmarks at each new 
frequency without any trouble until we hit 



and 1.55V, and then boosted the AGP 
voltage from Auto to 1.6V to see if we 
could squeeze a few more points out of the 
benchmarks. We also set the memory volt- 
age from Auto to 2.8v. The system crashed 
again, but it loaded Windows without any 
trouble so we reset the memory voltage to 
Auto. This time, the system crashed out of 
3DMark05, but it didn't automatically 
reboot. Finally, with both AGP and mem- 
ory voltages at Auto, the system posted 
strong scores, including 5615 in 
3DMark05 and 54.7fps in Doom 3. 

Next, we raised the frequency to 
223MHz, bumped the voltage to 1.6V, 



96 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












and then loaded Windows. Before we ran 
the benchmarks, we installed ATI Tools 
and used the tool's slider bars to move the 
GPU frequency from 500 to 530MHz 
and the Memory frequency from 1000 to 
1080MHz (the tool includes a test that 
helps you determine the best settings). 
This time, the system posted dramatically 
higher 3D scores: 5904 in 3DMark05 and 
54.7fps in Doom 3. 

We maxed out our A8V Deluxe system 
at 224MHz (2.91 GHz) with a CPU volt- 
age of 1.65V. The 3DMark05 score 
dropped four points to 5900, but 
PCMark04 landed at a solid 5582 and the 
Doom 3 frame rate dropped only O.lfps 
to 54.5fps. The system refused to boot at 
higher frequencies, so we called it quits 
and turned our test system (sans mobo 
and processor) to the Intel fans. 





PCMark 04 PCMark04 PCMark 

Memory Graphics 04 HDD 3DMark05 Doom 3 

5685 6435 4545 5496 52.5fps 

6231 6461 4566 5900 54.5fps 



PCMark 04 
Memory 

5341 

5781 


PCMark04 PCMark 
Graphics 04 HDD 

6867 4177 

7352 4134 


3DMark05 

5724 

6150 


Doom 3 

51.7fps 

56.1fps 





Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 EE 
& ASUS P5AD2 

Intel's new LGA775 socket caused 
some cooling problems for us. The new 
socket includes a new heatsink and 
mounting scheme. That means water- 
blocks developed specifically to fit socket 
478 boards are no longer compatible with 
new LGA775 boards. We ordered an 
Asetek watercooling system for this article 
with 3/8-inch interior diameter CPU 
water block that supposedly fit LGA775 
boards. Unfortunately for us, we received 
a socket 478 water block that was not 
compatible with our board. We had a 



Thermaltake Aquarius III watercooling 
kit in-house for testing and borrowed the 
water block to use with our Asetek sys- 
tem. The Thermaltake water block, how- 
ever, used smaller 3/8-inch outer diameter 
tubing. We managed to fit the smaller 
hoses into the larger ones and used a 
worm clamp to hold it in place. The 
setup seemed to work fine for us. 

Motherboard. In the Case Studies sec- 
tion, we had the opportunity to test a 
number of Intel motherboards. ASUS had 
two boards that stood out, the 915P-based 
P5GD2 Deluxe and the 925X-based 
P5AD2 Premium. MSI's 915P Neo2 
Platinum also performed well. In the end, 
we decided to pair our 3.4GHz P4 EE 
with the ASUS P5AD2 Premium mother- 
board. The 925X can be a little trickier to 
overclock than Intel's 915P (which isn't 
an easy overclock in its 
own right), but we felt this 
particular board offered a 
couple of advantages. For 
starters, ASUS did a solid 
job on the P5AD2. We 
ran the same processor/ 
board combination previ- 
ously in the Case Studies 
section using stock cool- 
ing, so we knew that this 
was one of the easier 925X 
motherboards to over- 
clock, and we knew the 
kind of performance we 
could expect from it. Also, 
the 925X includes some 
memory enhancements 
that might give Intel a 
slight advantage over AMD. We're not 
sure this advantage is worth spending our 
own hard-earned money on, but we had 
the board handy anyway. . . . 

The P5AD2 Premium comes laden 
with features. A Silicon Image SATA 
RAID controller and Intel ICH6R let you 
create two SATA RAID arrays each with 
as many as four drives. An ITE IDE 
RAID controller provides support for an 
IDE RAID array and is an especially nice 
feature for those wondering what to do 
with all their old IDE drives. 

ASUS also integrated 802.1 lg directly 
into the P5AD2. It's not unheard of to 



see high-end boards come with a PCI Wi- 
Fi card, but integrating 802.1 lg directly 
into the motherboard means there's no 
need to take up a PCI slot with a Wi-Fi 
card. You'll also find two Gigabit 
Ethernet controllers that use the board's 
PCI-E bus to send and receive data. 
Using the PCI-E bus eliminates the bot- 
tleneck imposed by the older and slower 
PCI bus. 

Overclock. After installing the proces- 
sor, memory, and video card, we fastened 
all the water blocks and hoses in place and 
ran through our benchmark suite at the 
system's stock speeds. We were definitely 
impressed with our 5373 overall 
PCMark04 score. The P4 EE managed a 
5262 CPU score and our RADEON 
X800XT scored an impressive 6867 
Graphics score. We were a little disap- 
pointed that the system only posted a 
5341 Memory score, and the 4177 HDD 
score was also lower than expected (we 
used the Intel ICH6R, not the Silicon 
Image SATA RAID Controller). The 
5724 3DMark05 score, however, was very 
impressive and our 51.7fps in Doom 3 
was a good starting point. 

Earlier in the Case Studies section, we 
managed to increase the FSB on this 
motherboard to 220MHz, pushing the 
3.4GHz P4 EE to 3.74GHz. In order to 
get the system stable at that speed, we 
had to change the Performance Mode 
option to Turbo, Disable Spread Spec- 
trum, and increase the processor's core 
voltage to 1.6V. We made the proper 
adjustments and took the leap from 
200 to 220MHz. 

The system had no problems and 
managed an impressive 5777 3D- 
Mark05 score. A slight increase to 
225MHz gave us a 3.83GHz processor 
and a 5807 3DMark05 score. We ran 
into problems increasing the FSB to 
230MHz. Our stability issues seemed to 
increase as we raised the processor volt- 
age beyond 1.65V. In most cases, the 
system booted fine but crashed when 
running 3DMark05. As we approached 
1.7V, however, the system started 
rebooting while loading Windows or 
freezing up at the Welcome screen. 
Increasing the memory, northbridge, 



CPU / PC Modder 97 






WISMffi 






and northbridge termination voltages 
didn't help stabilize the system. 

We reduced the voltage to 1.6V and 
reset all other voltages to Auto before 
reducing the FSB speed to 227MHz, 
resulting in a 3.86GHz processor clock 
speed, but 3DMark05 froze during the 
first CPU test. Increasing the FSB to 
228MHz caused the system to reboot 
during 3DMark05. 

The watercooling system only let us 
increase the FSB an extra 5MHz, but we 
never expected the Gallatin-based P4 EE 
to overclock particularly high. None- 
theless, the new video card was helping 
us post some impressive scores. Our 
overall PCMark04 score fell just short of 
6000 at 5970. Our CPU score increased 
to 5767 and our once-disappointing 
Memory score was now coming in at a 
solid 5763. Our Graphics score was just 
shy of the 7000 mark at 6902, but our 
HDD score was still somewhat disap- 
pointing at 4169. 

What's the use of having a VGA water 
block if you don't push your video card? 
We used ATI Tools to increase our core 
and memory frequencies. Due to the 
increase in our PCI-E frequency, the 
video card's core and memory were both 
overclocked slightly and running at 
519.75MHz. We were able to increase 
the card's core frequency to 544.5MHz 
and its memory frequency to 585MHz. 
Interesting enough, the increased GPU 
and memory frequencies caused our over- 
all PCMark04 score to fall to 5841 
despite the fact that each individual com- 
ponent score increased. The CPU score 
increased to 5804 and our Memory score 
to 5781. The Graphics score broke the 
7,000 mark with an impressive 7352. 
Our HDD score was down a bit to 4134. 
Overclocking the video card helped us 
post a truly impressive 6150 3DMark05 
score. The improvements showed in 
Doom 3 as well. We averaged 56.1fps. 

Final Word 

Before we discuss Intel's sizeable victo- 
ry, we'd like to point out again that tech- 
nology prevented us from creating a true 
apples-to-apples comparison. PCI Ex- 
press and DDR2 features both eluded 



Before we discuss 

Intel's sizeable 
victory, we'd like to 
point out again that 

technology 

prevented us from 

creating a true 

apples-to-apples 

comparison. 



AMD-based motherboards at the time we 
tested our systems. ASUS sent us a review 
A8N SLi Deluxe (see the SLI Unleashed 
article on page 106), SLI mobo just 
before we went to press and we consid- 
ered throwing the PCIe ASUS X800 XT 
into one of the board's two graphics slots, 
but we couldn't justify stripping the 
chipset heatsink off the loaner mobo and 
then possibly killing it as we had with the 
ABIT board. Don't worry — we're certain 
we'll get our hands on SLI boards for the 
next issue of PC Modder. 

All in all, we're glad the ABIT AV8- 
3rd Eye finally kicked the bucket; if it 
hadn't, we wouldn't have known just how 
low those scores really were until we test- 
ed the Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme 
Edition, at which point we would have 
had to retest our FX-55 anyway. As it 
was, the ASUS A8V Deluxe/FX-55 sys- 
tem made a solid showing with its base- 
line scores, posting 5053 in PCMark04 to 
the ASUS P5AD2 Premium/P4 EE's 
5373. The FX-55 system took solid leads 
over the P4 EE rig in PCMark04's 
Memory and HDD component scores, 
but the AMD PC's CPU and Graphics 
scores lagged far behind Intel's. We 



weren't surprised to see that the FX sys- 
tem couldn't quite keep pace with the 
Intel system in 3DMark05, but we were 
pleased to see that it posted a slightly 
higher frame rate in Doom 3 than its 
Intel competitor. Unfortunately, not 
much changed when we maxed out both 
systems. The FX-55 lessened the 
PCMark04 performance gap from 320 
points to 259 points and let the 
3DMark05 gap slip only from 228 points 
to 250 points. 

The P4 EE didn't overclock quite as far 
as the Athlon 64 FX-55. Both processors 
use the same 130nm fabrication process, 
but at 3.4GHz the P4 EE just doesn't 
seem to offer overclockers as much head- 
room. We didn't expect DDR2 to clob- 
ber DDR, but we were surprised to see 
the DDR score so far out ahead of our 
DDR2 scores. 

Intel takes the overclocking crown for 
the second time in a row, but without 
the crushing victory it enjoyed in our last 
issue of PC Modder. This time, the FX- 
55 started out only a few hundred points 
behind the Intel champ in PCMark04 
and 3DMark05, and it kept that pace at 
max settings. Even the Doom 3 timede- 
mo proved to be a tight race. The FX-55 
started with a slight (0.8fps) lead over 
the P4 EE but let that slip and finished 
our overclocking spree 1.6fps behind the 
P4 EE. 

If you have a budget for your new 
heavy-duty system, you'll find that the 
gap tightens further still: While the P4 EE 
is the performance leader, it carries a lead- 
er's price tag of about $1,075. The FX- 
55, on the other hand, will only set you 
back about $880. The Intel-based ASUS 
P5AD2 Premium also outweighs the 
ASUS AV8 Deluxe by double the price at 
about $260. All told, you can expect to 
pay about $325 more for the Intel setup's 
extra performance, or about $1.30 per 
extra point in 3Dmark05. Despite losing 
every benchmark to the P4 EE, we can't 
say that we're disappointed in the FX-55: 
They're both drool-worthy processors 
that will boost your PC's performance to 
new heights. CPU 

by Joshua Gulick & Chad Denton 



98 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




Clash Of The Titans 

ATI & NVIDIA Put Their Newest Horses On The Track 



Some kids just don't know how to 
play nice. Whether it's the playing 
field or the classroom, some rival- 
ries know no bounds. 

The proverbial Hatfields-McCoys feud 
between ATI and NVIDIA is no differ- 
ent. For the last few years, both compa- 
nies have traded haymakers. Each has 
claimed its share of victories, but neither 
has produced anything that could deliver 
a deathblow to the other. For every time 
an NVIDIA card trounces a similar ATI 
board in Doom 3, the same ATI board 
completely turns the table on its counter- 
part in Half-Life 2. (At press time, official 
Half-Life 2 benchmarks were unavailable, 
but a number of online forums have post- 
ed benchmarks from Counterstrike: 
Source, which uses the same graphics 
engine as Half-Life 2, and the results 
heavily favor ATI.) 

The battle for the best 3DMark05 
score is a perfect example. After two 
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics 
cards in an SLI (Scalable Link Interface) 
claimed the top score (7229) in the new 
Futuremark benchmark, ATI rushed to 
dethrone its arch-nemesis. As of Oct. 1, 
2004, the Canada-based company enlist- 
ed the help of Finnish overclocker Sami 
Makkinen and used a generous helping of 
dry ice to successfully push a single 
RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition to 
achieve a new score of 8250. Both scores 
are amazing, but both ATI and NVIDIA 
used methods rarely implemented at the 
consumer level. 

With Doom 3 and Counter Strike: 
Source on the market, it looks like there is 
no end in sight for the GPU/VPU 
slugfest. As the hardware/software scales 
have tipped to the point that the most 
powerful graphics cards can't fully take 
advantage of the latest game engines, ATI 
and NVIDIA will continue to fight for 
technological supremacy. Sounds epic, 
doesn't it? 



To separate the walk from the talk, we 
rounded up some of the latest and great- 
est cards sporting the best technology 
each company has to offer. Because we 
know you're not satisfied until your card 
is clocked to the hilt (unless you happen 
to own an already-overclocked BFG 
6800 Ultra watercooled card, you lucky 
dog), we've included both stock and 
overclocked benchmark scores for each of 
the challengers. 

In addition to selecting ATI's and 
NVIDIA's flagship models, we also cast a 
wider net to include some of the more 
reasonably priced new cards. Although 
ATI is phasing out its X600 family of 
graphics cards, we snagged an X600 PRO 
to see if it could be a viable option for the 
budget overclocker. 

We rounded out our band of con- 
tenders with an equal number of AGP 
and PCI Express boards. On the AGP 
side, we selected Albatron's GeForce 
6800, eVGA's GeForce 6800 GT and 
6800 Ultra, and ATI's RADEON X800 
PRO and X800 XT Platinum Edition. 

Our PCI-E collection consisted of the 
following: ATI's RADEON X600 PRO 
and X700 PRO, Gainward's GeForce 
6600, Chaintech's GeForce 6600 GT, 
and ASUS' RADEON X800 XT. 

We would have liked to test a card 
based on NVIDIA's new GeForce 6200 
GPU, which is NVIDIA's answer to 
ATI's RADEON X300 lineup of VPUs, 
but they hadn't hit the store shelves by 
press time. Similarly, the RADEON 
X700 XT remained in availability limbo, 
as we were unable to find a card. 

How We Tested 

Although we tried to keep our tests as 
uniform as possible, we had to make a few 
substitutions on our PCI-E system. Our 
trusty graphics testing system sported a 
2GHz Athlon 64 3200+ with 1GB 
(512MB x 2) of trusty Kingston HyperX 



PC3200 DDR SDRAM. Our CPU and 
memory were saddled to an equally reli- 
able ASUS K8V Deluxe mobo, and a 
Lite-ON LTC-4816H 48X/24X/48X/ 
16X DVD/CD-RW drive and Seagate 
Barracuda ST380013AS 7200rpm 80GB 
SATA hard drive came along for the ride. 
We used Windows XP Professional SP1 
as our operating system, and an Antec 
Performance True430 430W PSU pow- 
ered our rig. 

Unfortunately, our PCI-E graphics 
cards were useless with the K8V Deluxe, 
and our AMD CPU only comes in a 
754-pin flavor. We constructed a similar 
system based on ABIT's AG8, which 
uses Intel's 915P chipset. We tapped 
Intel's 3.2GHz LGA775 Pentium 4 as 
our processor because its performance is 
roughly equivalent to the AMD Athlon 
64 3200 + . While most 915-based 
mobos are hungry for DDR2 SDRAM, 
the SL-915GPRO-FGR liked plain old 
DDR SDRAM, so we reused the King- 
ston HyperX RAM. Because the ASUS 
K8V Deluxe doesn't support dual-chan- 
nel memory technology, we didn't uti- 
lize it on the ABIT board, either. We 
completed our second test system with 
the same optical drive and PSU but 
swapped the Seagate hard drive with a 
Samsung SP0812C 7200rpm 80GB 
SATA hard drive. 

We used ATI's Catalyst Windows XP 
4.11 driver with our ATI cards and 




Albatron GeForce 6800 



N^\^^^ 



CPU / PC Modder 99 






WISMffi 






NVIDIA's Forceware Windows XP/2000 
66.93 driver. Both were the most current 
drivers at the time of this writing. 

When designing our graphics obstacle 
course, we sought an even balance 
between synthetic benchmarks and game 
tests to push our graphics cards to their 
respective limits. We chose 3DMark03 
Build 3.4.0 so we could have an idea of 
how these cards stacked up against older 
models. We also used 3DMark05 
Business Version 1.1.0 to see how much 
our high-end GeForce 6800 Ultra and 
RADEON X800 XT PE would flex 
under the increased graphics burden 
of Futuremark's latest benchmarking 
software. (Plus, watching Troll's Lair 
becomes a little tedious after the 784th 
viewing.) You're probably familiar with 
arguments from both camps regarding 
synthetic benchmarks as an accurate mea- 
sure of hardware performance, but we're 
not here to pontificate. We'll supply the 
data; you decide if you want to use it. 

After our synthetic benchmarks had 
run their course, we fired up Halo and 
Doom 3 to test the frame rates as we exer- 
cised our virtual Second Amendment 
rights on the Covenant's grunts and 
Satan's minions. We ran each game's 
benchmarks at 800 x 600, 1,024 x 768, 
and 1,280 x 1,024. We set the graphics 
quality to High in Doom 3 and turned 
off antialiasing in all of our tests. 

We also stayed true to our moniker 
and overclocked each card to determine, 
among other things, if there were any dia- 
monds in the rough that simply needed to 
shed their modest clock speeds to become 
overclocked monsters. Once our cards 
had more extra juice than a BALCO exec- 
utive, we reran 3DMark03, 3DMark05, 
Halo, and Doom 3 and noted the im- 
proved scores. 

Albatron GeForce 6800 

Now that NVIDIA's GeForce 6600 
GT cards are readily available, it's diffi- 
cult to think of GeForce 6800 cards as 
truly high-end. Sure, you can spend about 
$80 more and get slightly better numbers, 
but the real difference between the two 
cards is the interface each uses. It looks 
like the 6800 will remain entrenched in 



the world of AGP while the 6600 GT will 
likely stay exclusively a PCI-E card. 
(Theoretically, NVIDIA could produce 
both chips for either interface.) 

In stock tests, the Albatron GeForce 
6800 clearly beat the Chaintech GeForce 
6600 GT, but the victory wasn't a land- 
slide. In fact, the difference in 3DMark03 
and 3DMark05 scores was much smaller 
between the 6800 and 6600 GT than the 
6600 GT and 6600. The ATI RADEON 
X800 PRO beat the 6800 in both syn- 
thetic benchmarks by about 1,000 in 
3DMark03 and about 600 in 3DMark05. 

When the 6800 squared off against the 
X800 PRO in Halo and Doom 3, the 
scales tilted slightly in favor of the 6800. 
Our Halo tests were a dead heat, but the 
6800 has an easy advantage, averaging from 
6.5 to 9fps faster than the X800 PRO. 

The 6800 proved to be a respectable 
overclocker as we raised its core clock 
speed 13% and its memory clock speed 
14%. In turn, our 3DMark03 and 
3DMark05 scores jumped 11% and 12%, 
respectively. The overclock also helped 
boost the card's Doom 3 frame rate at 
1,280 x 1,024 from 64.9 to 71.1fps, a 
10% improvement. 

The Albatron 6800 comes with a fair 
software bundle, including Intervideo's 
WinDVD and WinDVD Creator, Duke 
Nukem: Manhattan Project, and a game 
pack CD that includes titles such as Max 
Payne and Rally Trophy. For less than 
$300, it's easily a great graphics card for 
AGP users. 

ASUS Extreme AX800XT/2DT 

As far as motherboards are concerned, 
the ASUS name has become synonymous 
with quality over a relatively long period 
of time. With that in mind, we decided to 
try ASUS' PCI-E version of ATI's 
RADEON X800 XT, the Extreme 
AX800XT/2DT 256MB. 

ASUS clearly went two or three extra 
miles to please even the pickiest gamers. Set 
atop an awe-inspiring orange PCB, a sturdy 
copper heatsink covers both the memory 
and the VPU. Plus, when you fire the card 
up for the first time, it treats you to a cool 
blue glow — a definite incentive to finally 
take the Dremel to your case's side panel. 



*s$£ 




1 \ 






^> 




ASUS Extreme AX800XT/2DT 



^\^\5^^S 



Add a software bundle that includes the full 
version of Deus EX 2: Invisible War, Ulead 
Cool 3D SE 3.0, and ASUS' own DVD- 
playback and video-editing software, and 
you have a great graphics package. 

The X800 XT put up some solid stock 
numbers in all of our benchmarks, turn- 
ing in an excellent 3DMark03 score 
(1 1330) and nearly beating the X800 XT 
PE in 3DMark05 (4750 to 4782). Our 
game tests were less impressive when 
placed beside the GeForce 6800 GT and 
6800 Ultra, but the X800 XT still han- 
dled Halo and Doom 3 at the highest set- 
tings with relative ease. The card's frames 
rate trailed off a little at 1,280 x 1,024 to 
64.9fps in Doom 3, leading us to give a 
slight advantage to the 6800 GT, a com- 
parably priced card. 

We knew the X800 XT would have 
less headroom for overclocking than the 
X800 PRO, but that didn't stop us from 
extracting some extra horsepower out of 
it. We initially stretched the core clock 
speed to 542MHz and the memory clock 
speed to 1.1GHz, but we backed the 
core speed down to 535MHz after 3D- 
Mark05 crashed. 

After the overclock, the X800 XT post- 
ed the best 3DMark05 score out of all the 
RADEON-based cards. The Halo and 
Doom 3 scores (typically lower than the 
X800 PRO) were a mystery, but we're 
guessing the slower speeds were a result of 
other components than the card itself. 
Because it's still expensive, you may want 
to take the X800 PRO instead. 

ATI RADEON X700 PRO 

Of all the cards we tested, we were par- 
ticularly excited to take a look at the new 



CPU Ranking: \ = Absolutely Worthless ^ ^ ^ 2.5 = Absolutely Average \g$> ^ ^g> ^ f& 5 = Absolutely Perfect 



100 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 













VPU on ATI's block, the RADEON 
X700 PRO. The X700 PRO and X700 
XT chips look poised to duke it out with 
the GeForce 6600 and 6600 GT in a 
price-to-performance battle. With solid 
default core and memory clock speeds 
(420MHz and 860MHz, respectively), 
the X700 PRO's real advantage lies in its 
pipelines. With eight pixel pipes, it dou- 
bles the X600 PRO's four. The X700 
PRO's six vertex shader units are twice as 
many as the GeForce 6600. 

The X700 PRO performed well on 
3DMark03 and 3DMark05, performing 
just below the Chaintech GeForce 6600 
GT at stock settings. We'll give a slight 
nod to the GeForce 6600 GT in 
3DMark03, but the difference in 3D- 
Mark05 scores (15 3D Marks) makes that 
race too close to call. 

On the other hand, if you believe 
Futuremark's benchmarks are nothing 
but synthetic hocus pocus, you may favor 
the 6600 or 6600 GT, which both edged 
the X700 PRO in Halo and Doom 3 at 
all settings. 

ATI's X700 PRO was an average over- 
clocker, as we prodded a 13% increase in 
core clock speed and a 10% increase in 
memory clock speed. The limiting factor 
seemed to be the core; at 500MHz core 
clock speed and 923MHz memory clock 
speed, the X700 PRO produced heavy 
artifacts and eventually crashed our system 
in our overclocking utility. Although it 
wasn't as dynamite an overclocker as the 
GeForce 6600, the X700 PRO posted per- 
centage score increases on par with both 
the GeForce 6600 and 6600 GT. We 
weren't surprised to see the X700 PRO 
continue to lag behind in Halo and Doom 



3, but the 11% fps improvement in 
Doom 3 at 1,280 x 1,024 is noteworthy. 

If ATI can fill out the X700 lineup 
with models that offer the same price-to- 
performance ratio as the X700 PRO, the 
biggest battleground between ATI and 
NVIDIA could easily come on the 
midrange front. 

ATI RADEON X800 PRO 

After our brief journey in the world of 
PCI-E X800, we took the AGP-based 
RADEON X800 PRO for a fantastic voy- 
age. The core and memory clock speeds 
are rated at 475MHz and 900MHz, 
respectively. Either way, we hoped we 
could ramp up the speeds to levels that 
could give us an X800 XT's performance 
at an X800 PRO's price. 

We're anxiously awaiting the day ATI 
will actually bundle a copy of Half-Life 2 
with its high-end cards, but we'll settle for 




the card itself for now. ATI didn't sur- 
prise us with its traditional red PCB, but 
covering the heatsink sheath with the 
grim visage of the axe-wielding beast that 
also graces the front of the X800 PRO's 
box was a nice touch. 

The X800 PRO itself wielded a double- 
edged axe as it cleaved through our bench- 
marks with ease. Had we run 3DMark03 a 
few more times, we're confident the X800 
PRO could have soared passed the magical 
10,000 barrier; we settled for 9974 instead. 
Its stock 3937 3DMark05 score easily best- 
ed the GeForce 6800. We're happy to 
report Doom 3 was very playable in all of 
our tests, and our frame rates didn't dip 
below 55 at any resolution. The X800 
PRO was strong in Halo, too. 



Perhaps as tantalizing as our stock 
benchmark results, we were able to over- 
clock the X800 PRO to a 522MHz core 
clock speed and 1.008GHz memory clock 
speed, slightly beyond both the X800 
XT's 500MHz/lGHz stock speeds. Its 
overclocked core speed is even on par 
with the X800 XT Platinum Edition. 

If you're daring enough to hardmod 
your X800 PRO to unlock its four 
unused pixel pipes, you can literally have 
an X800 XT in your hands. (Of course, 
ATI doesn't recommend this.) Indeed, 
our benchmark results hint that the only 
thing holding the X800 PRO back is its 
12 pixel pipelines. The X800 PRO 
recorded its best result in 3DMark03 and 
3DMark05 (about a 9% increase) and 
Doom 3 at 1,280 x 1,024 (about a 10% 
increase). Our high resolution Doom 3 
test pleased us, as it suggested we might 
expect similar gains at higher resolution 
or quality settings. 

The only drawback to the X800 PRO 
might be its price. It's generally $100 
more than the GeForce 6800, its primary 
competitor. If the price tumbles, we may 
have found our high-end hero. 

ATI RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition 

Don't believe that the RADEON 
X800 XT Platinum Edition is one of the 
most popular cards on the market? Try to 
find one on the shelves. For that matter, 
try to find one, period. Gamers every- 
where are snatching up ATI's flagship 
graphics cards faster than they can roll off 
of the assembly lines. We were lucky 
enough to borrow an X800 XT PE. 

Because we borrowed this card, it natu- 
rally didn't include any bonus software, 
but you may be able to score a copy of 
Half-Life 2 if you purchase the retail ver- 
sion of the X800 XT PE— not a bad deal. 

When you look at the numbers, the 
X800 XT PE shares a relationship with 
the X800 XT that is quite similar to the 
one between the GeForce 6800 GT and 
6800 Ultra. Because both sets of cards 
have 16 pixel pipelines, the stock num- 
bers of the higher-end cards compare 
nicely with the overclocked numbers of 
the lower-end cards. For example, the 
X800 XT PE's stock 3DMark03 and 



CPU / PCModder 101 






WISMffi 






ATI RADEON X800 XT 




Platinum Edition ^t6 


fougt. 




■ 







^\^>^ ^s 



3DMark05 scores (12116 and 4782) are 
both lower than the overclocked X800 
XT's scores (12314 and 5071). 

In Halo and Doom 3 testing, the X800 
XT PE gave us impressive results. ATI has 
apparently closed the much larger gap in 
Doom 3 performance, as our frame rates 
from the X800 XT PE weren't signifi- 
cantly behind the 6800 Ultra. We'll still 
give the edge to NVIDIA, but the victory 
certainly isn't large enough for the stal- 
wart ATI faithful to jump ship just yet. 

Like the 6800 Ultra, we weren't able to 
overclock the X800 XT PE as much as 
cards with more headroom; we raised the 
core and memory clock speed a rather 
disappointing 4%. Our 3% gain in 
3DMark03 and marginal improvement in 
other tests is proof that while the X800 
XT PE can reach insane speeds through 
less conventional cooling methods, the 
stock cooling apparatus will set a defini- 
tive limit on the amount of overclocking 
you'll be able to achieve. 

Should the X800 XT PE ever become 
available on ATI's Web site in the next 
century, it makes an outstanding buy at 
$499. The prices at other online retail- 
ers (often $150 higher) are somewhat 
less desirable. 

Chaintech SE6600G 

SLI has been the buzzword on the tip 
of every graphics enthusiast's tongue this 
year, and Chaintech must have heard the 
talk through the grapevine. Its GeForce 
6600 GT (the SE6600G) is fully capable 
of implementing NVIDIA's SLI technol- 
ogy. Boasting 128MB GDDR3 Memory 
(1GHz frequency), NVIDIA's Ultra- 
Shadow II and Intellisample technologies, 



and a 500MHz core clock speed, the 
Chaintech SE6600G certainly looks 
impressive on paper. 

Although a "Painkiller Included" sticker 
adorns the front of the box, our hunt for 
the game proved fruitless. Instead, the soft- 
ware bundle included demos for Age of 
Wonders 2, Serious Sam 2, Rally Trophy, 
Max Payne, and Tropico — blech. Chain- 
tech was kind enough to toss in Inter- 
video's WinCinema package, which 
includes WinDVD 6, WinDVD Creator, 
and Win Rip. Overall, the Chaintech's 
software package barely trumps Gainward's 
GeForce 6600, but you're not buying the 
SE6600G for the Tropico demo; SLI alone 
makes this card worth the price. 

The SE6600G sizzled through 3D- 
Mark03 with an 8026 score. This score 
was about 800 points higher than the 
RADEON X700 PRO's 3DMark03 score, 
so we're expecting the X700 XT to stack 
up nicely against the GeForce 6600GT. 
The price-to-performance difference might 
be so small that choosing the right card 
could come down to your game of choice 
between Half-Life 2 and Doom 3. For 
example, the SE6600G pumped out 55.4 
frames per second in Doom 3 at 1,280 x 
1,024 compared to theX700 PRO's 35.1. 

In Halo, the SE6600G also bested the 
X700 PRO, but the margin of victory was 
much closer. In fact, we were surprised to 
see Gainward's GeForce 6600 hold it's 
own with this card (at least in Halo). 

When we overclocked the SE6600G, it 
safely tested with a 574MHz core clock 




speed and a 1.14GHz memory clock speed. 
However, we experienced a healthy amount 
of artifacts during "Troll's Lair." We didn't 



notice any problems once we reduced the 
speeds to 550MHz and 1.12GHz, respec- 
tively, and the 6600 GT responded with a 
700-point gain in 3DMark03 and a more 
modest 240-point gain in 3DMark05. 

Halo and Doom 3 didn't respond to 
our overclocking efforts with as much 
enthusiasm as Futuremark's synthetic 
benchmarks. Despite roughly 10% jumps 
in both core clock and memory frequen- 
cies, our scores only budged a few fps at 
most resolutions. 

Chaintech's SE6600G's SLI capability 
is a major selling point, but you'll still 
want to give GeForce 6600-based boards 
a hard look even if you're not planning to 
set up an SLI system in the future. 

eVGA GF 6800 GT 

Put simply, the GF 6800 GT vindi- 
cates the overclocker mentality. Quiet and 
unassuming with a 350MHz core clock 
speed and a 1GHz memory clock speed, 
this card is begging to be tinkered with. 
Little did we know when we lifted the GF 
6800 GT out of its packaging that this 
card had some serious muscle. 

It can't match the sheer girth of the 
eVGA e-GeForce 6800 Ultra, but the GF 
6800 GT is just as long as the 6800 Ultra 
and easily longer than any other card we 
tested. In fact, we had to reposition our 
hard drive in the hard drive cage just to 
connect it with a spare Molex power con- 
nector. Once we completed the necessary 
hardware shuffling, the board was ready 
to run through the graphics gauntlet. 

The GF 6800 GT put up impressive 
numbers in all tests, easily passing the 
10000 mark in 3DMark03 and trailing 
the X800 XT by a small margin in both 
of our Futuremark tests. But what the 
card lacked in synthetic testing, it made 
up for in Halo and Doom 3, handily 
beating both the X800 PRO and X800 
XT in both games. With scores so close to 
the eVGA's 6800 Ultra and a significantly 
lower price tag, the GF 6800 GT 
appeared to hit the price-to-performance 
bull's-eye with unerring accuracy. 

When we overclocked the X800 PRO, 
its 12 pixel pipelines kept it from reaching 
X800 XT numbers despite higher core 
clock and memory speeds. This wasn't the 



CPU Ranking: \ = Absolutely Worthless ^> ^ ^ 2.5 = Absolutely Average Ng^l ^ ^ ^ ^i 5 = Absolutely Perfect 



102 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 













case with the GF 6800 GT. Because this 
card and the 6800 Ultra both have 16 
pixel pipelines, our overclocked GF 6800 
GT's scores looked eerily similar to the 
6800 Ultra's stock scores. We overclocked 
the core 16.5% but only managed a 4% 
memory clock speed increase before the 
card became unstable. 

Regardless, the overclocked GF 6800 
GT put up some awesome numbers. The 
difference in 3DMark tests between the 
overclocked GF 6800 GT and stock 6800 
Ultra weren't close enough to be a tie, but 
the naked eye won't notice a difference. It 
also posted some of the best Halo results 
of any card and returned frame rates in 
Doom 3 that were virtually identical to 
the stock 6800 Ultra. 

If you want the bragging rights of 
owning a real 6800 Ultra card, by all 
means, fork over an extra $200. Other- 
wise, save the cash, overclock a GF 6800 
GT, and secretly laugh at others after 
those bragging rights. 

eVGA e-GeForce 6800 Ultra 

Everything about eVGA's e-GeForce 
6800 Ultra is big — big heatsink, big 
power consumption, big scores, and big 
price tag. Not only is this card physically 
monstrous (its rear mounting bracket 
consumes two openings), it requires two 
Molex power connectors to feed its crav- 
ing for power. And the e-GeForce 6800 
Ultra is so fully prepared to eat your PSU 
alive that eVGA recommends a 480W 
power supply. Timbury, the cranially 
disproportionate bug collector who graces 
the heatsink shroud, looks timid and 
reserved; a striking contrast from the 
6800 Ultra's performance. 



Like ATI's X800 PRO and X700 PRO, 
this particular 6800 Ultra doesn't include 
any bonus software. The card has two 
DVI-Out ports in case you want to create 
a dual display with those spare 19-inch 
LCDs you have collecting dust in your 
basement. Aside from the ASUS Extreme 
AX800XT/2DT 256MB, the 6800 Ultra's 
heatsink is probably the best among the 
cards we tested. 

You'll eventually be able to set up two 
PCI-E 6800 Ultras in SLI, but even a sin- 
gle AGP board produced some excellent 
stock scores. Naturally, the 6800 Ultra 
trampled the Doom 3 engine like the floor 
of a Riverdance concert. It laughed at us 
during the 1,280 x 1,024 test in Doom 3, 
producing a mere 6.2fps drop from the 
800 x 600 test (89.4 to 83.2fps). The 




^^S^^S^^S 



card's stock scores in Halo, 3DMark03, 
and 3DMark05 were also top notch. 

The eVGA's 6800 Ultra also didn't sur- 
prise us with its relatively low ceiling for 
overclocking. With a 425MHz core clock 
speed, the card's stock core speed is 
75MHz faster than the eVGA's 6800 GT 
board. We nudged the core clock speed up 
to 445MHz and the memory clock speed 
from 1.1 to 1.2GHz, about a 5% and 9% 
increase, respectively. Because the eVGA 
6800 Ultra's game test scores were already 
so high, its 3DMark03 and 3DMark05 
scores were more indicative of a perfor- 
mance boost. This card already produced 
such high scores that we weren't displeased 
with our overclocking results, especially 
considering we were using eVGA's stock 
heatsink and fan. 

Let's not be mistaken, this card is awe- 
some. But considering our overclocked 



GF 6800 GT produced scores so close to 
the e-GeForce 6800 Ultra's stock scores, 
you might be paying a little too much for 
6800 Ultra. 

Gainward PowerPack! Ultra/1 760PCX 
TV-DVI 

We have to admit we're pretty impressed 
that this mighty mite packs Shader Model 
3.0 for as inexpensive as it is. While 
NVIDIA normally rates its GeForce 6600's 
core clock speed at 300MHz, Gainward's 
offering is overclocked to 400MHz right 
out of the box. The card has 128MB DDR 
memory clocked at 560MHz. 

There's nothing visually stunning about 
the Gainward card, and the included soft- 
ware package was nothing to write home 
about, either. Intervideo WinDVD 5 is 
better than nothing, but we would have 
liked to see a game or two included. 

The 1760PCX's price is comfortably 
sandwiched between the RADEON X600 
PRO and X700 PRO, so it makes sense 
that its benchmark scores are similarly situ- 
ated. We can't say that the Gainward card 
is the perfect equivalent to either the X600 
PRO or X700 PRO, but the 1760PCX's 
stock performance thrashed the X600 PRO 
and trailed the X700 PRO in both 
3DMark03 and 3DMark05. 

In our game tests, the 1760PCX edged 
the X600 PRO and X700 PRO in Halo 
and continued NVIDIA's trend of domi- 
nating Doom 3 tests. It posted a score of 
40.5fps at 1,280 x 1,024, proving Doom 3 
is more than playable on the 6600 even as 
you ratchet up the quality and resolution. 

We expected the 1760PCX to have a lit- 
tle more headroom for overclocking than 
Chaintech's 6600 GT card, and it didn't 



Gainward PowerPack! 
Ultra/1 760PCX TV-DVI 




Ng^^^^^S 



CPU / PCModder 103 






WISMffi 






GIGABYTE GV-RX60P128DE 

Easily the cheapest of our batch of 
graphics cards, GIGABYTE'S version of 
the RADEON X600 PRO was the only 
sub-$150 board we tested. It's true that 
ATI announced it would no longer be 
producing the X600 VPU. With the 
introduction of the X700 VPUs, which 
better compare with NVIDIA's GeForce 
6600 GPUs, it's only natural that the 
X600 lost its place in ATI's happy family. 
With the assumption that X600 cards will 
see a future price drop, we tested 
GIGABYTES's X600 PRO card as a bud- 
get video card. 

We have to admit GIGABYTE deliv- 
ered a pretty decent software bundle. It 
includes a copy of Power DVD 5 and 
full versions of Joint Operations: 
Typhoon Rising and Thief: Deadly 



GIGABYTE GV- 






RX60P128DE 


.Jk 






L :-vL 




1 4?£?^fe^V*'^ 




■ 



N^N^Ng 



disappoint us. We were able to overclock it 
to a simply silly 500MHz core clock speed 
and 655MHz memory clock speed, 25% 
and 17% gains, respectively. When you 
consider the 6600's default clock speed is 
300MHz, the overall 66% improvement 
was absolutely mind-boggling. 

The Gainward card's benchmark score 
improvement wasn't quite as impressive, 
but we still saw significant gains. The 
3DMark03 and 3DMark05 scores saw the 
biggest improvement with 18% and 20% 
increases, respectively. The card's fps in 
Doom 3 at 1,280 x 1,024 shot up 18%. 

Throwing around sweeping endorse- 
ments such as "Best Midrange Card of the 
Year" may be a little rash, but it's hard to 
ignore the facts. The Gainward 1760PCX 
is very affordable, very overclockable, and 
Doom 3 is very playable at all but the 
highest settings. Bravo. 

Excellence Quantified 

Say what you want about software bundles, awesome aesthetics, and reputations. We have the cold, hard numbers, boys and girls. While 
these are manufacturer-specific cards, the scores should give a general idea where each chipset stands. 



Shadows. Sure, neither game is quite a 
free copy of Doom 3 or Half-Life 2 but 
for $140, we'll take it. 

What surprised us the most about the 
X600 PRO's stock performance was that it 
turned in numbers below comparably 
priced older cards such as the Geforce 
FX5900XT and RADEON 9600XT. With 



Video Card 


Albatron GeForce 6800 


ASUS Extreme 
AX800 XT/2DT 


ATI RADEON 
X700 PRO 


ATI RADEON 
X800 PRO 


ATI RADEON X800 XT 
Platinum Edition 


We paid 


$289 


$639 


$195 


$399 


$499* 
AGP8X 


Interface 


AGP8X 


PCI-Ex16 


PCI-Ex16 


AGP8X 


Chipset 


NV40 


R423 


RV410 


R420 


R420 

256MB GDDR3 

520MHz 


RAM 


128MB DDR 


256MB GDDR3 


256MB GDDR3 


256MB GDDR3 


Core Clock 


325MHz 


500MHz 


420MHz 


475MHz 


Memory Clock (effective) 


700MHz 


1000MHz 


860MHz 


890MHz 


1150MHz 


Overclocked Maximums 
(core clock/memory 
clock in MHz) 


367/798 


535/1100 


475/943 


535/1036 


543/1166 


APIs Supported 
Operating Systems 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 1.5 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 1.5 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 2.0 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 2.0 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 2.0 


Windows 98/ME/NT 
4.0/2000/XP 


Windows 98/ME/NT 
4.0/2000/XP 


Windows 2000/XP 


Windows 2000/XP 


Windows 2000/XP 


3DMark03 


3D Marks 


8983 [9923] 


11330(12314] 


7251 [7833] 


9974(10837] 


12116(12537] 


3DMark05 


3D Marks 


3308 [3706] 


4750 [5071] 


2877 [3121] 


3937 [4282] 


4782 [4886] 


800 x 600 


56.87 [64.15] 


53.93 [50.98] 


49.95 [50.38] 


56.32 [56.61] 


56.59 [56.87] 


1,024x768 


55.39 [61 .37] 


53.32 [50.62] 


46.33 [47.39] 


55 [55.13] 


55.38 [55.39] 


1,280x1,024 


53.14 [54.58] 


50.92 [48.83] 


37.56 [39.79] 


50.1 9 [51 .02] 


52.92(53.14] 


Doom 3 (High Quality) I 


800 x 600 


88 [88.5] 


74.8 [74.2] 


64.4 [67.3] 


81.5 [82.9] 


83.4 [83.4] 


1,024x768 


80.3 [84.9] 


74.1 [74.3] 


50.3 [54.9] 


73.1 [77.3] 


82.6 [83.2] 


1,280x1,024 


64.9 [71.1] 


64.9 [67.9] 


35.1 [38.8] 


55.9 [61 .4] 


72.7 [74.3] 






Phone 


(626) 934-8220 


(502) 995-0883 


(905) 882-2600 


(905) 882-2600 


(905) 882-2600 


URL 


www.albatron .com .tw 


www.asus.com 


www.ati.com 


www.ati.com 


www.ati.com 


CPUs 


4 


3.5 


4 


4 


3.5 



CPU Ranking: , = Absolutely Worthless ^ ^i ^ 2.5 = Absolutely Average Ng^l ^ ^ \g^ \& 5 = Absolutely Perfect 
104 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












3371 and 1181 scores in 3DMark03 and 
3DMark05, respectively, we were left won- 
dering if the RADEON X600 architecture 
was merely ATI's first attempt at producing 
a midlevel PCI-E graphics card. With 
equally low game test scores, we would 
have declared NVIDIA's GeForce 6600 
family the best midlevel PCI-E solution if 
the X700 line hadn't come to the rescue. 

Despite its shortcomings, the GIGA- 
BYTE card turned out to be a decent 
overclocker. We raised the core clock 
speed about 13% and the memory clock 
speed 10%. Like the other cards we tested, 
its score improvements were more im- 
pressive in 3DMark03 and 3DMark05 
than Halo and Doom 3, but the GV- 
RX60P128DE did post across-the-board 
gains in every test we ran. 

We wanted to like this card. Initially it 
had the makings of a budget contender. It 



was cheap and had a decent software 
package, and we thought we could over- 
clock it to equal the power of a slightly 
more expensive card. If you're looking for 
a solid PCI-E card and don't want to 
spend a fortune, we recommend spending 
a little more on a Geforce 6600- or X700 
PRO-based card. 

Drum Roll, Please 

We won't waste your time with extra- 
neous verbiage, so here are our picks for 
this go-around's best cards. 

The Secretariat Award for pure, unbri- 
dled power goes (barely) to the eVGA 
GeForce 6800 Ultra. Stunning graphics 
and excellent benchmark scores are the 
biggest reasons this is an ideal card for 
anyone with a money tree in his back- 
yard. However, it wasn't a landslide, as 
the X800 XT PE was hot on its heels. 



The Overclocker Award goes to the 
Gainward GeForce 6600. The card is 
simply a monster overclocker, and we 
shudder to think what would happen if 
we went beyond its stock cooling. 

Finally, the Best in Show easily goes to 
the eVGA GeForce 6800 GT. We really 
can't say enough good things about this 
card. Not only did it put up rock-solid 
stock numbers, we effectively turned it 
into a 6800 Ultra for $200 less. This 
could be the card for high-performance 
gaming until ATI and NVIDIA release 
new chip architectures. 

Last time, we declared a clean sweep in 
favor of ATI, but it looks like the tables 
have turned. With ATI introducing its own 
version of SLI in the near future, this feud 
shows no signs of dying down. CPU 

by Vince Cogley 



Chaintech SE6600G 


eVGA GF 6800 GT 


eVGA e-GeForce 6800 Ultra 


Gainward PowerPack! 
Ultra/1 760PCXTV-DVI 


GIGABYTE GV-RX60P128DE 


$215 


$449 


$599 


$165 


$143 


PCI-E x16 


AGP8X 


AGP8X 


PCI-E x16 
NV43 


PCI-E x1 6 
RV380 


NV43 


NV40 


NV40 


128MB DDR3 


256MB GDDR3 


256MB GDDR3 


128MB DDR 


128MB DDR 


500MHz 


350MHz 


425MHz 


400MHz 


400MHz 


1000MHz 


1000MHz 


1100GHz 


560MHz 


600MHz 


550/1120 


408/1040 


445/1200 


500/655 

DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 1.5 


450/660 

DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 2.0 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 1.5 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 1.5 


DirectX 9.0, OpenGL 1.5 


Windows 9X/2000/NT 
4.0/XP 


Windows 98/ME/NT 
4.0/2000/XP 


Windows 98/ME/NT 
4.0/2000/XP 


Windows 2000/XP 


Windows 98/ME/NT 4.0/2000/XP 


8026 [8731] 


11031 [12238] 


12399(13014] 


5826 [6870] 


3371 [3783] 


2892 [3136] 


4531 [5071] 


5158 [5418] 


2062 [2474] 


1181 [1319] 


55.75 [55.41] 


64.29 [63.76] 


64.12 [64.28] 


54.8 [55.64] 
50.31 [52.99] 


41.1 [43.99] 
28.92 [32.63] 


54.04 [54.45] 


62.54 [63.47] 


63.4 [63.16] 


47.99 [49.67] 


58.45 [60.03] 


60.43 [60.91] 


39.54 [45.4] 


18.97 [21.55] 


76.6 [77.2] 


89.3 [89.3] 


89.4 [89.2] 


69.4 [73.3] 
57 [64] 


32.1 [36.6] 

23.2 [26.4] 


70.7 [73.4] 


87.5 [89.1] 


89 [89] 


55.4 [60.3] 


76.7 [82] 


83.2 [84.8] 


40.2 [47.4] 


15 [17.1] 




(886) 2-2268-9998 (international) 


(888)881-3842 


(888)881-3842 


(408) 942-2898 


(626) 854-9338 


www.chaintechusa.com 


www.evga.com 


www.evga.com 


www.gainwardusa.com 


www.gigabyte.com 


4 


5 


3.5 


4.5 


2.5 



CPU / PCModder 105 






IMMffi 






SLI Unleashed 

Dual Graphics Will Rock Your Socks Off 



OK, let's run down that parts list 
one last time. AMD Athlon 64 
FX-55? Check. 1GB OCZ 
Platinum Enhanced Latency dual-channel 
PC4200 RAM? Check. Two Western 
Digital 74GB Raptor hard drives in a 
RAID array? Check and check. Two 
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics 
cards? Wait, what? 

Unless you've been living in a Martian 
cave for the past several months, you 
know that dual graphics cards are back in 
a big way. While the idea of merging two 
graphics cards to behave as a single card 
isn't a new idea, the concept has been 
enjoying a comfortable retirement until 
recently. Now, with the increased band- 
width of PCI Express, those two graphics 
cards (and the smoldering benchmark 




This welcome bubble let us know we were 
steps from pure graphics bliss. 

scores they can achieve) are no hallucina- 
tion. If PCI-E lives up to the hype, you 
can expect dual graphics card systems to 
be a mainstay in power computing for 
years to come. 

We'll take you for a stroll down memo- 
ry lane with a brief refresher course on the 
other SLI, 3dfx's Scan Line Interleave, and 
explain the technology behind NVIDIA's 
current solution. We'll also show you how 
to set up your own SLI system and give 
you a taste of the performance boost you 
can expect when you partner up two 
already blazing fast graphics cards. 

A Little History Lesson 

Between the two current graphics jug- 
gernauts, NVIDIA staked its claim to 
dual graphics technology before ATI, but 



now-defunct 3dfx (which, incidentally, 
NVIDIA acquired after its collapse) was 
the last company to produce a technology 
based on the same premise as NVIDIA's 
SLI (Scaleable Link Interface). 

Back in the days when 3dfx muscled 
around smaller companies with its Voodoo 
lineup of graphics cards, the PCI bus was 
still a viable option for graphics cards. As a 
result, 3dfx developed a technology coinci- 
dentally also named SLI, although 3dfx's 
version stood for Scan Line Interleave. 
3dfx's flavor of SLI debuted with its 
Voodoo2 3D accelerator cards and used a 
passthrough VGA cable to connect the two 
cards to the monitor. A special 40-pin 
cable physically connected the two cards. 

Once the cards were connected, SLI 
technology allowed one card to render 
even-framed lines while the other card 
rendered the odd-framed lines. The result 
was a near doubling in graphic rendering 
technology. As a result, hardcore gamers 
had access to graphical performance that 
was previously only accessible on the 
workstation level. 

The setup for 3dfx's SLI was also 
expensive. The Voodoo2 dealt exclusively 
with 3D graphics, so a Scan Line 
Interleave system required three graphics 
cards — one to handle 2D graphics while 
the two Voodoo2 cards tackled 3D graph- 
ics. Purchasing such a system brand-new 
could easily cost $1,000. Still, 3dfx's SLI 
was a hit with the gaming elite. 

Ultimately, the steady improvement in 
available bandwidth from the AGP bus 
doomed 3dfx's SLI. Because of the design 
differences between the AGP and PCI 
buses, it was impossible to set up a system 
with two AGP cards. That didn't stop 
3dfx from trying to innovate. With its 
Voodoo5 graphics card, 3dfx added a sec- 
ond core to simulate two graphics cards. 

Today, NVIDIA has picked up the 
sword and continued to fight the good 
fight for graphics enthusiasts everywhere. 



At press time, similar technology is now 
in the works at ATI (which is currently 
labeled Multi Rendering), but NVIDIA's 
SLI is currently available for consumers. 
High-end PC manufacturer Alienware has 
developed a proprietary dual graphics sys- 
tem called Video Array that uses software 
and a special video hub to combine two 
graphics cards. While Alienware's design 
lets you choose between ATI and 
NVIDIA graphics cards (like NVIDIA's 
SLI, the two cards must be identical), 
Video Array is only on Alienware's own 
ALX line of PCs; don't expect to custom- 
build your own Video Array system. 

Single PCI-E video cards currently can't 
take advantage of the extra bandwidth a 
PCI-E xl6 bus can afford, meaning one 
PCI-E graphics card won't have a signifi- 
cant performance edge over an AGP card. 

Same Acronym, Different Results 

Scalable Link Interface helps the PCI- 
E graphics bus reach its potential. While 
the two technologies have identical 
acronyms, NVIDIA is quick to point out 
that its Scalable Link Interface is radically 
different than 3dfx's Scan Line Inter- 
leave. For starters, the Scan Line Inter- 
leave ribbon cable used an analog signal, 
which could cause image quality to dete- 
riorate. Also, Scan Line Interleave only 
executed the triangle setup and left the 
geometry burden for the CPU to shoul- 
der. Thus, Scan Line Interleave only 
scaled simple texture fill rates and then 
implemented inter-frame scalability. 

Scalable Link Interface, on the other 
hand, uses a digital frame combining 
technique that doesn't result in loss of 
image quality and can also scale geometry 
performance. Scalable Link Interface also 
intuitively works with each particular 
application to determine the proper scala- 
bility. In some respects, this isn't a 
tremendous advantage because applica- 
tions running at higher resolutions and 
image quality will generally benefit more 
from Scalable Link Interface. 

Each version of SLI also renders an 
image in its own unique way. NVIDIA's 
Scalable Link Interface essentially splits an 
image in half. One graphics card renders 
the top half of an image while the other 



106 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












takes the bottom half. 3dfx's Scan Line 
Interleave splits the image into a series of 
horizontal lines, and each card renders 
every other line. 

NVIDIA's SLI is currently available on 
PCI-E versions of the GeForce 6800 Ultra, 
6800 GT, 6600 GT, and Quadro FX 3400. 

NVIDIA has confirmed that it will let 
each mobo manufacturer devise the 
method of linking two cards. Although 
companies are apparently free to choose 
between a PCB connector and a ribbon 
cable, either method must be NVIDIA- 
approved before a particular model reach- 
es store shelves with the SLI branding. 
Expect both to be available, depending on 
the whim of each company. 

Before You Get Your Graphics On 

Before you take the NVIDIA SLI (sim- 
ply SLI from this point) plunge, you may 

The Benchmarks 



You've heard the talk; here's the walk. While NVIDIA claims SLI can theoretically nearly double 
graphics performance, we found two cards were about 65% better than one in most of our 
tests. Our best improvement was an 87% improvement in Halo at 1 ,600 x 1 ,200. 



want to consider a few things. First and 
foremost, be ready to plunk down about 
$250 to $350 for a mobo packing 
NVIDIA's nForce4 SLI chipset. Depend- 
ing on your other components, you may 
require a complete system overhaul to 
implement SLI. Combine the pricey moth- 
erboard with two GeForce 6800 Ultra 
cards and a 939-pin AMD CPU, and you 
can easily have a $2,000 pile of high-perfor- 
mance PCB and silicon. You'll also need to 
consider the power requirements of two 
high-end graphics cards. A GeForce 6800 
Ultra already needs two Molex power con- 
nectors. ASUS recommends a 500W+ 
power supply if your system uses an FX-55 
and two 6800 Ultras. 

If you're replacing a sorely outdated 
graphics card, you may want to simply 
consider buying a single high-end card 
instead of two less expensive cards. 






1X6600GT 


1X6800GT* 


1x6800 Ultra* 

445MHz/1.2GHz 

12399(13014) 
5158(5418) 


SLI 6600 GT 

560MHz/1. 12GHz 

13269 (14530) 
5544(6136) 


Overclocked frequencies 
(core/memory clock speed) 


560MHz/1.12GHz) 


408MHz/1040 


3DMark03 


8201 (8894) 


11031 (12238) 






3DMark05 


3293 (3628) 


4531 (5071) 








800 x 600 


70.86(71.49) 


64.29 (63.29) 
62.54 (63.47) 
58.45 (60.03) 


64.12(64.28) 
63.4(63.16) 
60.43(60.91) 
N/A 


74.14(74.81) 
74.09(74.16) 
74.26 (71 .26) 
74.22 (65.26) 


1,024x768 


65.67 (66.96) 


1 ,280 x 1 ,024 


52.87 (57.04) 


1,600x1,200 


39.76 (43.92) 


N/A 








Doom 3 (high) 




800 x 600 


97.2(99.1) 


89.3 (89.3) 
87.5(89.1) 
58.45 (60.03 
N/A 


89.4 (89.2) 
89 (89) 
83.2 (84.8) 
N/A 


96.6 (96.6) 
94.3 (97.2) 
87.5 (88.7) 
74.3 (79.6) 


1,024x768 


83.3 (88.7) 


1 ,280 x 1 ,024 


60.8 (67.2) 


1,600x1,200 


45.1 (50.2) 






Doom 3 (ultra) 




800 x 600 


90.8 (94.6) 


N/A 


N/A 
N/A 
N/A 
N/A 


92.3(93.1) 
88.3 (90.6) 
81.9(84.7) 
62.1 (66) 


1,024x768 


77.2(81.4) 


N/A 


1 ,280 x 1 ,024 


53.4 (59.5) 


N/A 


1,600x1,200 


40.1 (43.7) 


N/A 










Doom 3 (ultra) 




1,600 x 1,200 Full AA 


17 


N/A 


N/A 


27.6 



*AMD Athlon 64 3200+ and ASUS K8V Deluxe used 



According to NVIDIA's own bench- 
marks, two GeForce 6600 GTs in an SLI 
configuration scored 5698 in 3DMark05 
and churned out 58.58fps in Halo and 
32fps in Doom 3. 

By comparison, a single GeForce 6800 

GT only trailed slightly in 3DMark05 

(4588) and Halo (50.01fps) and actually 

beat the two 6600 GTs in Doom 3 with 

37.3fps. When you consider two 

6600 GTs cost about the same 

price as single 6800 GT, it might 

be smarter to stick with one 

graphics card. You'll save space in 

your case and probably won't 

have to upgrade the rest of your 

existing hardware. 

SLI does make sense for some- 
one eyeing a series of two mod- 
erate graphics upgrades instead 
of a giant leap. An SLI upgrade 
should also make even more 
sense when PCI Express becomes 
more widespread and affordable. 
Anyone who purchased a single 
SLI-capable graphics card won't 
have to completely scrap it to 
improve performance. 

Our SLI Setup 

You're sold. You have to have 
SLI, and you have to have it now. 
Never fear, stalwart soldier. SLI 
isn't too difficult to setup, provid- 
ed you have the right hardware. 

At press time, somewhere 
between a smidgen and an iota of 
nForce4 SLI-based motherboards 
existed. Therefore, we'd like to 
send a special Muchas Gracias to 
Rick Allen and the good people at 
ASUS for saving our bacon at the 



CPU / PCModder 107 






WISMffi 






The Price You Pay For $LI 

%# ou already know SLI ain't for the thrifty. Here's an idea of what our rig would set 
■ us back (prices based on lowest price from Pricegrabber.com). 


Component 


Model 


Price 


CPU 

Motherboard 
Graphics Card 


AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 


$811 


ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe 


$299 


Chaintech SE6600G x 2 


$390 ($190 ea.) 


Memory 


OCZ Technology 1GB PC4200 DDR DIMM Dual Channel Enhanced Latency Series Memory Kit 


$351 


Monitor 
Hard drive 


ViewSonic G90f 19" Monitor 


$177 


80GB Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 7200rpm SATA hard drive 


$62 


Optical Drive 
Case/PSU 


Lite-ONLTC-4816H 


$44 


Antec 1 080AMG Performance Plus ATX Tower (Antec True430 430W PSU included) 


$97 


OS 


Windows XP Professional SP1 (OEM) 


$53 


Total 




$2,284 





1 1 th hour with a loaner of its new A8N- 
SLI Deluxe mobo. 

A sampling of this board's thoroughly 
righteous features include support for 
AMD's Socket 939 Athlon 64/64 FX 
CPUs, eight SATA connectors including 
onboard RAID 5, dual Gigabit Ethernet, 
and IEEE 1394b support. Even without 
SLI, this is a slick mobo. 

We settled on two Chaintech GeForce 
SE6600Gs (with NVIDIA's GeForce 
6600 GT GPU) because we thought the 
card's price fit the largest number of bud- 
gets. We also made our selection with the 
idea that someone would buy another 
6600 GT for increased performance once 
its price fell even lower. The Chaintech 
board's core clock frequency is set at 
speedy 500MHz, and it packs 128MB 
GDDR3 memory with a 1GHz effective 
clock frequency. 

We rounded out our lean, mean, SLI 
machine with a 939-pin AMD Athlon 
64 FX-53 CPU, 1GB of dual-channel 
OCZ Technology PC4200 DDR RAM, 



a Lite-ON LTC-4816H 48X/24X/ 
48X/16X DVD/CD-RW drive, and an 
80GB Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 
7200rpm SATA hard drive. An Antec 
Peformance True430 430W PSU sup- 
plied the juice to our parts, and we used 
Windows XP Professional Edition SP1 
as our operating system. 

With the exception of installing two 
graphics cards, we assembled our rig like 
any other. ASUS didn't include SATA 
drivers on a 3.5-inch floppy disk, but we 
made a driver disk with the company's 
MakeDisk application. The program is 
located in the E:\Drivers\Sil31l4 directo- 
ry (assuming your optical drive is E:). 

We lined up the FX-53 so that its gold 
triangle matched the socket's triangle and 
applied a fresh coat of thermal paste once 
we locked the CPU in the socket. Once 
the rest of our components fell into place, 
we installed a Chaintech SE6600G in 
each of the PCI-E xl6 graphics slots and 
tied the rig together with the PCB SLI 
connector. The connector seemed firmly 




Ahhh, the power of PCB. The EZ Selector Card (left) lets the A8N-SLI Deluxe know that two 
graphics cards will be tackling your 3D duties. 



attached, but ASUS included a retention 
bracket that mounts to the case and pre- 
vents the connector from slipping off. 

There were two other small-yet-easily- 
overlooked-if-you're-not-careful steps we 
took to finish the hardware setup. ASUS 
has a small, thin EZ selector card that 
looks like a PCB razor blade that tells the 
motherboard if one or two cards are oper- 
ating. Our board was set to dual graphics 
cards by default, but you'll want to dou- 
ble-check yours to be sure. There is also 
an onboard connector that requires a 4- 
pin Molex power cable to keep an SLI 
system stable. It's located just above the 
blue PCI-E xl 6 slot. 

The software installation was also pain- 
less. We installed our mobo drivers and 
downloaded NVIDIA's 66.93 driver, 
which has added support for SLI, the 
6600 and 6600 GT chips, and the new 
mainstream GeForce 6200 chip. After 
restarting our system, we right-clicked on 
the desktop and opened the Display 
Properties dialog box. We clicked the 
Settings tab, the Advanced button, and 
the GeForce 6600 GT tab. Finally, we 
clicked SLI-multi GPU on the panel that 
appeared to the left of the dialog box, 
then the Enable SLI multi-GPU check- 
box. We clicked OK and restarted our 
system one last time. 

How We Tested 

Using our newly created SLI behe- 
moth and NVIDIA's latest driver, we 
wasted no time feeding it a steady supply 



108 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 













One is nice, but two are better. There isn't much more to setting up SLI than installing both cards 
and linking them with the SLI connector. 



of benchmarks. We started with Future- 
mark's 3DMark03 as a light appetizer 
before letting the two GeForce 6600 GTs 
sink their teeth into a more substantive 
meal. Next, we served up 3DMark05 as 
the main course and provided Halo and 
Doom 3 tests as tasty side dishes. After 
our SLI system finished its meal at 
default speeds, we overclocked both cards 
and sent them through the benchmark 
buffet line one more time. 

Finally, we compared our results to a 
GeForce 6600 GT single card system, and 
AGP versions of the 6800 GT and 6800 
Ultra (we couldn't find PCI-E versions of 
these when we tested) to see if SLI could 
really deliver what NVIDIA has promised. 

Benchmarks For Breakfast 

Because we had benchmark numbers 
from NVIDIA's own tests, we didn't have 
to scrape our jaws off the floor, but the 
performance results the two GeForce 6600 
GTs achieved nonetheless made us ponder 
a visit to the orthodontist. SLI will certain- 
ly help your system devour synthetic 
benchmarks and game tests alike. 

Our 3DMark03 score (13269) was 62% 
higher than a single 6600GT and 20% 
higher than the GeForce 6800 GT. (Keep 



in mind we were using an Athlon 64 3200+ 
when we tested the GeForce 6800 GT 
GPU.) SLI even beat the GeForce 6800 
Ultra by about 1,000 3DMarks. We wit- 
nessed equally impressive results in 
3DMark05 (5544), 68%, 22%, and 7% 
higher than the single 6600 GT, 6800 GT, 
and 6800 Ultra systems, respectively. The 
difference between the 6800 GT and 6800 
Ultra scores would likely be much smaller if 
we had PCI-E versions of either GPU to 
test with the A8N-SLI Deluxe. 

NVIDIA also stayed true its words 
when we tested our dual 6600 GT setup 
in Halo and Doom 3. In Halo, the SLI 
system posted frame rates of 74.l4fps, 
74.09fps, 74.26fps, and 74.22fps at 800 x 
600, 1,024 x 768, 1,280 x 1,024 and 
1,600 x 1,200, respectively. Our Doom 3 
performance jump wasn't quite as impres- 
sive, as our yoked 6600 GTs scored 
96.6fps, 94.3fps, 87.5fps, and 74.3fps at 
800 x 600, 1,024 x 768, 1,280 x 1,024, 
and 1,600 x 1,200, respectively. 

SLI really kicked in at the Ultra quality 
setting. Check our chart to see for yourself, 
but the dual 6600 GTs barely flinched 
even at the highest resolutions. Just out of 
curiosity, we tested single- and dual-card 
configurations on Doom's Ultra setting at 



1,600 x 1,200 with AA at 16X, and both 
configurations finally relented. Our frame 
rates slowed to 17fps with one card and an 
almost playable 27.6fps in SLI. Are you 
ready for a graphics Utopia? Thomas More 
would be jealous. 

After our two 6600 GTs thoroughly 
thrashed the benchmarks at stock settings, 
we cranked them up to core and memory 
clock speeds of 560MHz and 1.12GHz, 
respectively, and unleashed some serious 
voodoo. Because the two cards are acting 
as "one" card, we didn't expect overclock- 
ing both cards about 12% would lead to a 
24% performance increase. 3DMark03 
and 3DMark05 generally confirmed this 
hypothesis. Our SLI 3DMark03 score 
was 10% higher than our stock results, 
while our overclocked 3DMark05 score 
bested the stock performance by 11%. 

At our overclocked settings, our 6600 
GTs tackled Halo and Doom 3 one more 
time before we shed a tear and sent the 
A8N-SLI Deluxe on its voyage back to 
ASUS. Take a gander at the chart for the 
full scoop. 

Back To The Future, Marty 

As we mentioned earlier, one of the 
biggest impediments to building your own 
SLI system is cost. Early adopters will be 
shelling out serious cash to turn heads at 
the next LAN party. A new motherboard is 
essential and purchasing the necessary 
PCI-E cards will cost at least $400. 

There is good news, however. Plan on 
NVIDIA releasing its next GPU archi- 
tecture in the next year. At that point, 
the prices on the GeForce 6600 GT and 
PCI-E versions of the GeForce 6800 GT 
and 6800 Ultra should fall to a range 
that buying a second card makes sound 
financial sense. 

Is NVIDIA's (and in the very near 
future, ATI's) dual-graphics card design 
revolutionary? Maybe. Is it remarkable? 
We think so, as long as both companies 
continue to release graphics cards at prices 
that make upgrading down the road with 
a second identical card more advanta- 
geous than scrapping your current card in 
favor of the next hottest flavor. CPU 

by Vince Cogley 



CPU / PCModder 109 






IMMff 






Speed 
vs. Precision 

ECC Memory Protects Data At The Cost Of Speed 



Most home users, including 
gamers and overclockers, 
rely on non-ECC rather 
than ECC memory. Some users choose 
non-ECC memory simply because there 
is a greater selection available, both in 
terms of frequencies and latencies. But 
users also shy away from ECC memory 
because it's slower than non-ECC 
memory, and is designed for servers 
that rely on data with low error rates. 
We compared the performance of 
unbuffered ECC and unbuffered non- 
ECC memory modules to determine 
the extent to which error-correction 
technologies affect the performance of 
DDR RAM. 

How We Tested 

Originally, we planned to test RAM 
from three manufacturers: Buffalo, 
Crucial, and Kingston. The Buffalo ECC 
memory was not available, so we made 
do with ECC and non-ECC RAM from 
Kingston and Crucial. We chose the 
fastest JEDEC-approved ECC memory 



(PC3200, also known as DDR400) for 
each. We tried to order RAM that had 
the same CAS latency so that our results 
would be comparable. All of our RAM 
has timings of 3-3-3-3, except for the 
Kingston ValueRAM PC3200 Non- 
ECC memory, which had a CAS latency 
of 2.5. To account for any effect the 
latencies had on test results, we bench- 
marked Kingston's non-ECC memory 
first at CAS 2.5 and then at CAS 3. 

For the ECC memory, we wanted to 
examine the effect of several ECC func- 
tions on performance, expecting that as 
we enabled more error-correcting capa- 
bilities, benchmark scores would drop. 
Our ASUS K8V SE Deluxe mother- 
board's BIOS gave us considerable free- 
dom to adjust error-correction settings. 
We benchmarked each pair of ECC 
memory modules at four settings. First, 
we benchmarked the memory with ECC 
disabled, which we expected to return 
results similar to those of our non-ECC 
memory. Next, we enabled ECC func- 
tions and ran each benchmark again. For 




Crucial's non-ECC PC3200 DDR 



our third round of ECC tests, we enabled 
the DRAM BG Scrub option, set to 
640ns. Finally, we turned on the ECC 
Chip Kill function in the BIOS. 

Our test system consisted of an ASUS 
K8V SE Deluxe motherboard, a 1.8GHz 
AMD Athlon 64 2800+ processor, a 
128MB Gainward NVIDIA GeForce 
FX5900XT FX PowerPacklUltra/ 
1100XT AGP video card, and an 80MB 
Maxtor 6Y080M0 7,200rpm SATA 
drive with 8MB cache. The only compo- 
nents we swapped in our tests were the 
RAM sticks. For each test system, we 
installed two 512MB memory modules 
(1GB total). 

To determine the performance of 
each ECC and non-ECC pair of 
DIMMs, we used SiSoftware's Sandra 
2004 and FutureMark's PCMark04 and 
3DMark05. In Sandra, we ran the 
Memory Bandwidth benchmark, after 
first disabling all MMX, SSE, SSE2, and 
Block/Prefetch instructions. This let us 
test the performance of the memory 
itself rather than the special capabilities 
of the chipset. We ran PC-Mark04's 
System Suite and Memory tests. Finally, 
we ran 3DMark05's Games tests, record- 
ing the overall 3DMark score and the 
frame rate for each of the three games. 

Crucial Non-ECC vs. ECC. A com- 
parison of Crucial's ECC and non-ECC 
performance demonstrates why ECC is 
the memory of choice for servers but not 
so much for gaming and general-use sys- 
tems. Crucial's non-ECC memory scored 
1808:1841 (Integer ALU: Float FPU) in 
Sandra, 3641 in PCMark04's System 
Suite, and 983 in 3DMark05. When we 
swapped the non-ECC memory with 
Crucial's ECC, we saw drops in perfor- 
mance before we even enabled ECC. For 
instance, Sandra's scores dropped to 
1726:1779, and PCMark's fell to 3714. 

Next, we enabled ECC and saw scores 
similar to those of Crucial's non-ECC 
memory, suggesting that some error-cor- 
rection might actually improve perfor- 
mance. However, as we added more 
ECC functionality, our scores in all 
benchmarks dropped fairly significantly. 
First, we enabled DRAM BG Scrub, 
which lets the memory correct errors 



110 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












while idle. We set the DRAM BG Scrub 
at 640ns, the frequency of error-correc- 
tion that is the default setting in the 
BIOS. With DRAM BG Scrub enabled, 
performance in most benchmarks 
dropped considerably. For instance, 
Sandra 2004 's scores fell to 1604:1642. 

Finally, we enabled ECC Chip Kill. 
This feature enables not only traditional 
single-bit error correction but also multi- 
ple-bit correction. Because Chip Kill 
checks for and corrects multiple-bit 
errors, this setting will further decrease 
performance by adding more clocks to 
each cycle. With ECC Chip Kill en- 
abled, Sandra's scores plummeted to 
1599:1638, and PCMark04's System 
Suite score dropped to 3569. 3DMark05 
also posted its lowest score of just 973. 

Kingston Non-ECC vs. ECC. Next, 
we fired up Kingston's ValueRAM 
PC3200 non-ECC memory. We first 
recorded scores of 1775:1816 (Sandra), 
3647 (PCMark04), 3435 (PCMark04, 
Memory), and 985 (3DMark05). When 
we slowed the latency timing from CAS 
2.5 to CAS 3 (the same as our other three 
sets of DDR), we saw little change in 



performance, with scores of 1767:1826 
(Sandra), 3644 (PCMark04), 3426 
(PCMark04, Memory), and 984 
(3DMark05). In the chart below, you 
can see not only how ECC and non- 
ECC memory compares but also how the 
CAS latency timings affected scores for 
Kingston's non-ECC DDR. 

Whereas we saw some drop in perfor- 
mance with Crucial's ECC memory 
installed but not yet enabled, benchmark 
results were virtually identical with 
Kingston's ECC memory installed but 
not enabled. This suggests that if you 
need to use ECC memory for some 
applications in which data integrity is 
essential, you can still use your system 
for speed-hungry applications if you first 
disable ECC functions in the BIOS. It is 
important, however, to make sure that 
your motherboard's BIOS lets you dis- 
able ECC functions. Some ECC-com- 
patible motherboards do not let you turn 
error-correcting on and off. 

Even after we enabled ECC functions 
with the Kingston ECC RAM, we saw 
little (if any) drop in performance. For 
example, Sandra's scores were 1804:1814 



(compared to the non-ECC's 1775:1816 
at CAS 2.5 and 1767:1826 at CAS 3). 
PCMark's System Suite score only 
dropped slightly, landing at 3642, and 
3DMark05 still posted a respectable 983. 
Only when we enabled DRAM BG 
Scrub did we see significant drops, with 
Sandra's scores falling to 1649:1667 and 
PCMark04's Memory tests registering 
only a 3189 score. Enabling ECC Chip 
Kill made only a slight difference, with 
most scores remaining about the same as 
with DRAM BG Scrub enabled. 

A Correct Decision Or An Error? 

What our testing suggests is that each 
type of RAM is appropriate for a specific 
type of system. ECC RAM takes a toll on 
system speed but it improves data integri- 
ty. If you operate a server or use your sys- 
tem for time-consuming rendering or 
computing, ECC memory is invaluable. 
On the other hand, if you use your PC 
for gaming or other speed-intensive 
applications, non-ECC memory will give 
you better system performance. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



Non-ECC vs ECC: How Much Faster? 



The chart below summarizes the performance of unbuffered non-ECC and ECC memory. The results of these tests demonstrate that ECC 
functions take a toll on overall speed and performance. 

ECC DRAM BG 

Enabled? Scrub (640r 
Enabled? 
Crucial PC3200, N/A N/A 

non-ECC 

Crucial PC3200, No N/A 

ECC 

Crucial PC3200, Yes No 

ECC 

Crucial PC3200, Yes Yes 

ECC 

Crucial PC3200, Yes Yes 

ECC 

Kingston PC3200, N/A N/A 

non-ECC 

Kingston PC3200, N/A N/A 

non-ECC 

Kingston No N/A 

PC3200, ECC 

Kingston Yes No 

PC3200, ECC 

Kingston Yes Yes 

PC3200, ECC 

Kingston Yes Yes 

PC3200, ECC 



ECC Chip 
Kill Enabled? 


Timings 
3-3-3-3 


Sandra 2004 
int ALU 


Sandra 2004 
Float FPU 


PCMark04, 

System 

Suite 


PCMark04, 
Memory 


3DMark05 
Games 


N/A 


1808 


1841 


3641 


3440 


983 (4fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


N/A 


3-3-3-3 


1726 


1779 


3614 


3403 


981 (3.9fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


No 


3-3-3-3 
3-3-3-3 


1814 


1840 


3641 


3432 


983 (4fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


No 


1604 


1642 


3600 


3135 


975 (3.9fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


Yes 


3-3-3-3 


1599 


1638 
1816 


3569 
3647 


3126 


973 (4fps, 
2.7fps, 5.4fps) 


N/A 


2.5-3-3-3 


1775 


3435 


985 (4fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


N/A 


(Changed 
to 3-3-3-3) 


1767 


1826 


3644 


3426 


984 (3.9fps, 
2.9fps, 5.4fps) 


N/A 


3-3-3-3 


1786 


1818 


3641 


3413 


978 (4fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


No 


3-3-3-3 


1804 


1814 


3642 


3413 


983 (4fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


No 


3-3-3-3 


1649 


1667 


3616 


3189 


975 (3.9fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 


Yes 


3-3-3-3 


1650 


1660 


3611 


3178 


975 (3.9fps, 
2.8fps, 5.4fps) 



CPU / PCModder 111 






WISMffi 






What A 

Difference 

A Pin Makes 

We Compare The Performance Of Socket 939 
& 940 Systems 



When AMD released the 
Athlon 64 FX-55, it sig- 
naled the end of Socket 
940's run as a consumer CPU. The 
FX-55 premiered as a 939-pin CPU 
with no evident plans for a 940-pin 
version of the processor. 

Clearly, AMD is moving away from a 
940-pin design for the mainstream, 
weaning its users away from Socket 940 
and toward Socket 939. The real concern 



for most is what difference that one pin 
makes when it comes to performance, 
especially considering that AMD's 
Opteron line of server and multiproces- 
sor CPUs still dwell in 940-pin sockets. 

We ran several benchmarks on Socket 
939 and 940 boards manufactured by 
ASUS, GIGABYTE, and MSI. Our goal 
was to determine if either the 939- or 
940-pin design offered any advantage in 
performance or operating temperature. 



The Performance Of The Pin 



1 o determine any performance gap between Socket 939 and Socket 940 systems, we com- 
pared two motherboards by each of three manufacturers: ASUS, GIGABYTE, and MSI. 



How We Tested 

For these tests, we used the Athlon 64 
FX-53, the only processor available in 
both 939- and 940-pin models. That 
way, we could eliminate some of the 
inevitable variables among systems when 
comparing Socket 939 and 940 perfor- 
mance. We tried to select motherboards 
that were similar, but we weren't able to 
create entirely equal systems because dif- 
ferent chipsets are available for Socket 
939 and 940. Most notably, the Socket 
939 chipsets offered wider Hyper- 
Transport buses. You should consider 
these variances when comparing results. 
However, given the fact that comparable 
chipsets are not readily available for 
Socket 939 and 940, chipset performance 
does factor into the overall performance 
of 939- and 940-pin CPU systems. 

We compared three pairs of mother- 
boards, two each from ASUS, GIGA- 
BYTE, and MSI. The ASUS mother- 
boards were the SK8V Deluxe, with a 
VIA K8T800 chipset (with an 800MHz 
HyperTransport bus), and the A8V 
Deluxe, which has a VIA K8T800 Pro 
chipset (with a 1GHz HyperTransport 
bus). Our GIGABYTE motherboards 
included the K8NNXP-940 with its 



Motherboard 


CPU 


Chipset 


Sandra 2004 


PCMark04 








CPU 

Arithmetic 


CPU 
Multimedia 


Memory 
Bandwidth 


Memory 
Bandwidth 


File 
System 


System 


CPU 


Memory 


Graphics 


ASUS SK8V 


AMD Athlon 64 
FX-53 (940-pin) 


K8T800 


14747 


47214 


11875 


11875 


50876 


4770 


4479 


5545 


3753 


ASUS A8V Deluxe 


AMD Athlon 64 
FX-53 (939-pin) 


K8T800 
Pro 


13624 


43632 


8793 


8793 


50829 


4241 


4125 


4587 


3500 


GIGABYTE 
K8NNXP-940 


AMD Athlon 64 
FX-53 (940-pin) 


nForce3 
150 


14804 


47416 


12002 


12002 


50522 


4748 


4452 


PC 
rebooted. 


4946 


GIGABYTE 
K8NSNXP-939 


AMD Athlon 64 
FX-53 (939-pin) 


nForce3 
Ultra 


14905 


47729 


12118 


12118 


50645 


4762 


4526 


5640 


4086 


MSI K8T 
Master2-FAR 


AMD Athlon 64 
FX-53 (940-pin) 


K8T800 


14638 


46863 


11738 


11738 


50828 


4732 


4467 


5499 


3915 


MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 


AMD Athlon 64 
FX-53 (939-pin) 


K8T800 
Pro 


14753 


47332 


9820 


9820 


51041 


4672 


4496 


4912 


3737 



s you can see, 
i bus of the VIA 
Motherboard 



there was little difference between benchmark scores when we lowered the HyperTransport 
K8T800 Pro chipset from 1 GHz to the 800MHz level of the K8T800 chipset. 



CPU 



Chipset 



MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 
MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 



AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 K8T800 Pro 

(939-pin) (1GHz) 

AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 K8T800 Pro 

(939-pin) (800MHz) 



Sandra 2004 


CPU 
Arithmetic 


CPU Memory 
Multimedia Bandwidth 


File System 
System 


14753 


47332 9820 


51041 4672 


14781 


47331 9814 


50944 4673 



PCMark04 


CPU Memory 


Graphics 


4496 4912 


3737 


4498 4919 


3712 



112 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












nForce3 150 chipset (with a 600MHz 
HyperTransport bus) and the 
K8NSNXP-939 with its nForce3 Ultra 
chipset (with a 1GHz HTbus). We 
rounded out our testing with the MSI 
K8T Master2-FAR (with the K8T800 
chipset) and the MSI K8T Neo2-FIR 
(with the K8T800 Pro chipset). 

Because Socket 940 systems require 
registered ECC memory and Socket 939 
systems use unbuffered memory, we 
could not use the same memory in both 
systems. We knew this would affect 
benchmark results somewhat because 
registered ECC memory runs slower than 
unbuffered memory. In both systems, we 
used two 512MB sticks of OCZ PC3200 
DDR for a total of 1GB of RAM. 

We did not swap out any other com- 
ponents in our systems, so all variances 
in performance should be due to the 
socket, processor, chipset, or memory. 
Although this leaves more variables than 
we would have liked, the truth is that 
these sockets support different chipsets 
and memory, and that the support for 
these different technologies should be 
considered when choosing between a 
939- and 940-pin processor. 

Our benchmarks included SiSoft- 
ware's Sandra 2004, FutureMark's 



PCMark04 and 3DMark05, and the 
Doom 3 timedemo. We recorded 
Sandra scores for CPU Arithmetic, 
CPU Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, 
and File System. We ran recorded 
scores for PCMark's System Suite as 
well as the CPU, Memory, Graphics, 
and HDD tests. We ran two 3DMark 
sets of benchmarks, the Games and 
CPU tests, recording the overall score 
for each, as well as the frame rate for 
each of the two CPU tests. We record- 
ed frame rates for Doom 3 at resolu- 
tions of both 800 x 600 and at 1,024 x 
768. Finally, if the BIOS offered hard- 
ware monitoring, we recorded the CPU 
and motherboard temperatures for each 
motherboard after running all tests. 

How One Pin Affects Performance 

Because these boards use different 
chipsets, we chose not to compare all 
systems against each other, but to 
instead compare each manufacturer's 
Socket 939 system to its Socket 940 
system. We tried to select chipsets that 
were as similar as possible for each 
manufacturer's pair of boards. 
However, there are some differences, 
most notably with the GIGABYTE 
boards, in which one system has a 



PCMark04 


3DMark05 Games 


Doom 3 


Temperatures 


HDD 


Games 


CPU 


800 x 600 


1 ,024 x 768 


CPU 


Motherboard 


4623 


1014 


3656 (2fps, 3fps) 


60.3fps 


40.9fps 


47.5 C 


35 C 


4661 


1001 


3205(1.7fps, 2.7fps) 


58.6fps 


40.1fps 


57 C 


29 C 


4505 


1110 


3503(1.8fps, 3fps) 


55fps 


40.4fps 


40 C 


N/A 


4525 


1001 


3755(2. 1fps,3.0fps) 


55.3fps 


41.6fps 


41 C 


N/A 


4529 


1017 


3734 (2fps, 3.1fps) 


56.9fps 


42.5fps 


40 C 


38 C 


4629 


1011 


3608(1.9fps, 3fps) 


56.8fps 


42.4fps 


39 C 


38 C 




PCMark04 


3DMark05 Games 


Doom 3 


Temperatures 


HDD 


Games 


CPU 


800 x 600 


1 ,024 x 768 


CPU 


Motherboard 


4629 


1011 


3608(1.9fps, 3fps) 


56.8fps 


42.4fps 


39 C 


38 C 


4631 


1011 


3683 (3fps, 3fps) 


60fps 


40fps 


39 C 


38 C 



600MHz HT bus and the other has a 
1GHz HyperTransport bus. 

Because both ASUS and MSI Socket 
940 boards used the VIA K8T800 
chipset and both ASUS and MSI Socket 

939 boards used the VIA K8T800 Pro 
chipset, we did make some comparisons 
among these boards. We also tweaked 
the HyperTransport bus on our MSI 
K8T Neo2-FIR board, running the 
benchmarks once at the native 1GHz 
HyperTransport bus and once at the 
800MHz settings (the same as the maxi- 
mum setting for the MSI K8T Master2- 
FAR board). This helped us determine 
how much the chipsets' HyperTransport 
feature might be influencing the results. 

ASUS SK8V Deluxe vs. A8V Deluxe. 
Our ASUS SK8V Deluxe and A8V 
Deluxe boards showed a clear trend in 
that the Socket 940 board outperformed 
the Socket 939 board in most tests. 
There were only two tests in which the 
A8V outperformed the SK8V. First, 
PCMark04's HDD score was 4661 with 
the Socket 940 system, compared to 
4623 with the Socket 939 system. The 
difference in performance here was negli- 
gible, though, as the SK8V system's score 
was only 0.8% higher than that of the 
A8V's. The real advantage that the A8V 
offered was in temperature. The mobo 
temperature registered 6 degrees Celsius 
cooler than the Socket 940 system. 
Although the Socket 939 motherboard 
was 20.7% cooler than the Socket 940 
board, the 939-pin processor was 20% 
hotter than the 940-pin processor (57 C 
compared to 47.5 C). 

Several of the Socket 940 SK8V's 
scores were considerably higher than 
those of the Socket 939 board's, with the 
greatest difference posted in Sandra's 
Memory Bandwidth score. The Socket 

940 system performed 35.1% above the 
Socket 939 system (11875 compared to 
8793). We were baffled by this score 
because, if anything, the Socket 940 sys- 
tem's registered ECC memory should 
have slowed the system down rather than 
sped it up. However, running the tests a 
second time on each system produced 
nearly identical results. Similarly, 
PCMark's Memory score was 20.1% 



CPU / PCModder 113 






WISMffi 






higher with the Socket 940 board (5545 
compared to 4587). 

The difference in the scores was negli- 
gible (less than 5%) between the two 
boards. For instance, Sandra's File 
System, PCMark's HDD, 3DMark 
Games, and both Doom 3 frame rates 
were nearly identical for both PCs. 
Still, we did see an advantage in the 
Socket 940 ASUS board. Later, we 
would compare a pair of MSI 
boards that featured the same 
chipsets (VIA K8T800 and K8T- 
800 Pro), and the results would 
prove to be quite different from 
those with the ASUS boards. 

GIGABYTE K8NNXP-940 
vs. K8NSNXP-939. We did not 
see such a dramatic difference in 
benchmark results between the two 
GIGABYTE systems. We could 
not run PCMark's Memory bench- 
mark with the registered ECC 
memory installed, so the Socket 

939 system came out ahead by 
default. However, in Sandra's 
Memory Bandwidth benchmark, 
there was only a 1% difference 
between the K8NNXP-940's 
12002 and the K8NSNXP-939's 
12118, giving us a better idea of 
how the memory really compared. 

The Socket 940 system performed 
21% better (4946 compared to 4086) 
than the Socket 939 system in PCMark's 
Graphics tests. The results from 3D- 
Mark05 were less clear about which sys- 
tem is better. The overall 3DMark05 
Games score was 1110 for the Socket 

940 board, 10.9% higher than the Socket 
939 board's 1001. However, the Socket 
939 board posted a 7.2% higher score in 
3DMark's CPU tests (3755 compared to 
3503). Both systems scored 3fps in the 
second CPU test, but the Socket 939 sys- 
tem had an advantage in the first CPU 
test (2.1fps compared to 1.8fps). All 
other scores for the two GIGABYTE sys- 
tems were comparable. 

MSI K8T Master2-FAR vs. K8T 
Neo2-FIR. MSI's Socket 939 and 940 
systems performed nearly evenly in our 
tests. Neither was a clear winner, as dif- 
ferences in most scores were negligible. 



Once again, the memory scores were 
higher for the Socket 940 system, with 
the 940-pin FX-53 system scoring 
11738, compared to the 939-pin FX53 
system's 9820 in the Memory Bandwidth 
benchmark. PCMark Memory scores 
also varied, with the Socket 940 system 




Socket 940 is breaking away from mainstream, gaming, and power 
systems and will be a specialized server and multiprocessor socket. 



scoring 5499 and the Socket 939 system 
scoring 4912. All other scores were nearly 
the same, and CPU and motherboard 
temperatures really didn't vary at all 
between the Socket 939 and 940 systems. 
What is notable about our MSI compari- 
son is that although the Socket 940 
ASUS board outperformed its Socket 
939 competitor, the MSI boards really 
didn't show a significant difference in 
939- vs. 940-pin performance. 

The HyperTransport bus effect. As 
we mentioned earlier, we lowered the 
MSI K8T Neo2-FIR's HyperTransport 
bus for a second round of benchmarking. 
We did not find any significant differ- 
ence that would have altered the results 
of our comparisons between the 
Master2-FAR and Neo2-FIR. Bench- 
mark scores were nearly the same with 
the Neo2-FIR operating at an 800MHz 
and 1GHz HyperTransport bus. The 
only significant differences came in 



Doom 3's timedemo. Set at 800MHz, 
the Neo2-FIR had a 60fps rate at Doom 
3's 800- x 600-resolution setting. This 
was 5.6% higher than the 56.8fps 
achieved with a 1GHz HyperTransport 
bus. When we upped the resolution to 
1,024 x 768, we saw better performance 
(42.4fps) at the 1GHz setting 
than at the 800MHz setting 
(40fps). Because of the similar 
results, most differences in the 
performance of our systems 
seemed to be attributable to 
either the socket or the memory 
rather than to the chipset. 

Can One Pin Make A 
Difference? 

Because our test results were 
mixed, it was hard to find a clear 
advantage to either Socket 939 
or Socket 940 when it comes to 
performance. Most of the differ- 
ences came in memory perfor- 
mance rather than in CPU or 
system performance, as we would 
expect to see if either socket pro- 
vided a true advantage. 

Performance doesn't seem to 
be a great factor in differentiating 

Sockets 939 and 940, so the true 

value of the newer 939-pin processors 
must lie not in its performance but in its 
overall value. AMD is clearly phasing 
Socket 940 out of mainstream and con- 
sumer systems so that its 940-pin proces- 
sors can exclusively serve the server and 
multiprocessor markets. Socket 939 is the 
future of consumer systems, including 
gaming PCs. 

Also, although we didn't see a signifi- 
cant effect on performance, users should 
appreciate that Socket 939 supports high- 
er HyperTransport rates. The benefit to 
Socket 939 isn't its performance, but its 
support for a wider range of memory and 
its projected longevity. Current main- 
stream and power PC systems built 
around Socket 940 will see an end to up- 
gradeability, whereas Socket 939 systems 
should support upgrades and new tech- 
nologies for the foreseeable future. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



114 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












The Many Faces 
Of 2.8 



We Test (Almost) Every 2.8GHz CPU 
Under The Sun 



Tell any gearhead, hot rodder, or 
car enthusiast that the most 
important measure of a car's 
performance is horsepower, and you're 
likely to draw a few good-natured snick- 
ers. Horsepower's important, but it 
takes more than ponies to put the mus- 
cle in a muscle car. Attributes such as 
torque, displacement, and engine type 
all play a role. 

Mazda's new RX-8 is an excellent 
example. While this sleek sports car is 
capable of reaching about 250 horse- 
power, its rotary engine pro- 
duces significantly less 
torque than the 



traditional piston and valve driven 
engine we're used to; you might not 
notice as much oomph off the line. 

You can view processors in a similar 
light. A CPU's operating frequency, or 
clock speed, is undoubtedly important, 
but lumping a 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 
4 together with a 2.8GHz 
Celeron is a mistake 
only the greenest 
of newbs 



would make. These processors simply 
aren't the same species and they're really 
not even in the same genus. 

For years, AMD enthusiasts have 
known there's more to a processor's 
power than its clock speed. As Intel 
charged ahead with clock speeds reach- 
ing as high as 3.8GHz, AMD has 
moseyed along, lingering in the 2GHz 
world. In fact, AMD's best desktop 
CPU, the ferocious Athlon 64 FX-55, 
has a 2.6GHz clock, more than 1GHz 
slower than Intel's fastest offering. Our 
"Race For The Gold" article (page 93), 
which pits Intel's 3.4GHz Extreme 
Edition processor against the 
AMD FX-55 processor 
illustrates that 
clock 




CPU / PCModder 115 






WISMffi 






speed doesn't necessarily translate into 
performance anymore. 

Intel Concedes 

As AMD has scored a number of vic- 
tories with its latest high-end chips, Intel 
itself has conceded clock speed isn't 
everything. For a number of years, Intel's 
naming scheme has included each proces- 
sor's clock speed. You knew you were 
getting a 3.2GHz processor when you 
bought Intel's Pentium 4 3.2E. To the 
displeasure of many who were comfort- 
able with this system, Intel has followed 
AMD in devising a new format sans 
clock speed. 

Intel's future releases will follow a 
three-digit method for labeling its 



Celeron, Pentium, and Pentium M 
processors. Celeron processors will receive 
a 3xx tag. Pentium processors will have a 
5xx number, and Pentium M processors 
will carry a 7xx label. While Intel was 
kind enough to include a verbose explana- 
tion of the numbering process, it tells a 
story that a chip's clock speed isn't what 
it's cracked up to be. 

Last year, Intel also announced it was 
scrapping plans for a 4GHz Pentium. As 
the migration away from more megahertz 
occurs, Intel will focus on ramping up the 
bus speed, boosting L2 cache, and tack- 
ling emerging technologies such as 64-bit 
functionality and dual core processors. 
These improvements will supply more 
power without raising clock speed. 



To prove that not all 2.8s are created 
equal, we set up a series of benchmarks 
to test overall performance and 3D per- 
formance. Also, we wanted to show that 
even though two 2.8GHz processors 
might have the same FSB, different 
cores usually mean one is a better over- 
clocker. Our results were far from 
shocking, but a few surprises kept the 
testing process interesting. 

How We Tested 

Normally, we try to keep our testing 
as consistent as possible to ensure that 
any difference in scores is not a result of 
a different component. Because we could 
only test some processors on certain 
chipsets, we had to make some hardware 



Go Beyond The Gigahertz 



2.8 was a magic number for Intel; the chip-making giant released a slew of processors with different cores, FSBs, and L2 caches. From the 
tortoise-like Celeron to the swift Xeon, the benchmarks below show there's more to a processor than clock speed. Numbers in parentheses 
are overclocked scores. 





CPU 


Intel Celeron 


Intel Celeron D 335 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8A 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8B 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8C 


Core 


Northwood 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Northwood 


Northwood 


Socket 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Default FSB 


400MHz 


533MHz 


533MHz 


533MHz 


800MHz 


L2 Cache 


128KB 


256KB 


1MB 


512KB 


512KB 


Price** 


$100 


$101 


$165 


$181 


$209 


Motherboard 


GIGABYTE 8KNXP 


GIGABYTE 8KNXP 


GIGABYTE 8KNXP 


GIGABYTE 8KNXP 


GIGABYTE 8KNXP 


Chipset 


Intel 875P 


Intel 875P 


Intel 875 P 


Intel 875P 


Intel 875P 




Default Clock 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


Overclocked To 


3.21GHz 


3.33GHz 


3.26GHz 


3.23GHz 


3.29GHz 




3DMark03 


4925 (4990) 


5309(5413) 


5373 (5483) 


5290 (5374) 


5348 (5470) 




PCMark04 


3137(3458) 


3637 (4279) 


3806(4331) 


3753(4151) 


4147(4818) 


CPU 


3217(3663) 


3736 (4392) 


3764 (4332) 


3761 (4214) 


4237 (4985) 


Memory 


2693 (2952) 


3720 (4275) 


3879 (4298) 


3651 (3929) 


4365(4611) 


Graphics 


3526 (3527) 


3748 (3822) 


3923(3991) 


3913(3966) 


3940(3981) 


HDD 


4716(4770) 


4742 (4755) 


4729 (4785) 


4786 (4809) 


4803 (4824) 




Halo 


800 x 600 
1,024x768 


24.76 (26.74) 
23.57 (26.60) 


37.25 (40.42) 
32.71 (34.78) 


42.13(49.19) 
35.98(39.13) 


41.07(47.98) 
35.62 (38.79) 


44.07 (47.99) 
37.11 (38.08) 


1 ,280 x 1 ,024 


20.65 (25.33) 


25.45 (25.58) 


25.63 (26.48) 


25.6 (26.45) 


25.86(25.91) 




Doom 3 


800 x 600 


26.9 (28.4) 


41 (43.9) 


48(49.1) 


45.5 (47.2) 


47.1 (48) 


1,024x768 


26.3 (26.4) 


33.7 (34.9) 


35.8 (35.8) 


35.2 (35.6) 


35.7 (35.8) 


1 ,280 x 1 ,024 


22.4 (22.9) 


24.8 (24.9) 


25 (25) 


25 (25) 


25 (25) 


'Effective FSB. Actual FSB is integrated into chip. 
"Lowest price from Pricegrabber.com as of 12/14/04. 



116 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












compromises. The different types of 
RAM we used is an excellent example. 
To test the Intel LGA775 P4 2.8GHz 
processor, we had to use 1GB of OCZ 
DDR2 PC2-4200 Platinum Edition 
Enhanced Bandwidth SDRAM. We test- 
ed the Intel Xeon 2.8GHz with 1GB of 
Kingston registered PC2700 DDR 
SDRAM. Both sets of memory modules 
operate at a different frequency than the 
1GB of OCZ DDR PC-4400 Gold 
Limited Edition Enhanced Latency Dual 
Channel SDRAM that we used for the 
other CPU tests. 

We also built two test systems to test 
our chips as quickly as possible. We 
used a 160GB Maxtor 7,200rpm hard 
drive and a Gainward FX PowerPack! 
Ultra/1100 XT Golden Sample graphics 
card (with NVIDIAs GeForce FX 5900 
XT GPU) in both systems. We picked the 
Chaintech SE5900 (using NVIDIA's 
GeForce PCX 5900 GPU) when we test- 
ed the LGA775 P4. We used Windows 
XP Professional SP1 as our OS because 



Our playground of benchmarks included 

two Futu remark benchmarks, 

3DMark03 and PCMark04, and 

standard timedemos for Halo and Doom 3. 



Windows XP Home doesn't recognize 
dual-processor systems. Our two cases 
were an Enlight Mid-Tower ATX Case 
with a 360W Power Supply and an 
ASPIRE (Turbo Case) Blue ATX Mid- 
Tower Case with a 350W Power Supply. 
For optical drives, we used a BenQ 
DW1620 DVD±RW DL and an ancient 
Lite-On LTN-486S CD-ROM drive we 
resurrected from a pile of various parts in 
our testing labs. 

With the exception of the Xeon, we 
tested each processor on two chipsets. We 
also would have liked to test the Xeon 
2.8GHz with EMT 64 and an 800MHz 



FSB, but the ASUS PC-DL dual Xeon 
mobo we had on hand could only handle 
the 2.8GHz Xeon with a 533MHz FSB. 

Our playground of benchmarks in- 
cluded two Futuremark benchmarks, 
3DMark03 and PCMark04, and standard 
timedemos for Halo and Doom 3. We 
ran 3DMark03 at 1,024 x 768 and Halo 
and Doom3 at 800 x 600, 1,024 x 768, 
and 1,280 x 1,024. We ran Doom 3 at 
the High Quality setting and disabled 
AAAF for all tests. 

While we're normally ambitious in 
our overclocking efforts, we took a con- 
servative approach for this 2.8GHz 





CPU 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8E 


Intel Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz 


AMD Sempron 2800+ 


AMD Athlon XP 2800+ 


AMD Athlon 64 2800+ 


Core 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Thoroughbred 


Barton 


Newcastle 


Socket 


Socket 478 


LGA775 


Socket A 


Socket A 


Socket 754 


Default FSB 


800MHz 


800MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


800MHz* 


L2 Cache 


1MB 


1MB 


256KB 


512KB 


512KB 


Price** 


$175 


$152 


$97 


$137 


$126 


Motherboard 


GIGABYTE 8KNXP 


MSI 925X Neo-54G 


ASUS A7V880 


ASUS A7V880 


EPoX 8KDA3+ 


Chipset 


Intel 875P 


Intel 925X 


VIA KT880 


VIA KT880 


NVIDIA nForce3 250Gb 




Default Clock 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2GHz 


2.08GHz 


1.8GHz 
2.04GHz 


Overclocked Tc 


3.37GHz 


3GHz 


2.23GHz 


2.29GHz 




3DMark03 


5403(5515) 


4730 (4793) 


4803(4961) 


4899(5011) 


5180(5338) 




PCMark04 


431 1 (5005) 


4136(4451) 


3256 (3684) 


3466 (3790) 


3623(4031) 


CPU 


4249 (5067) 


4370 (4700) 


3235 (3652) 


3390 (3742) 


3409(3810) 
3384 (3834) 


Memory 


4761 (5109) 


4896 (5240) 


2195(2450) 


2209(2391) 


Graphics 
HDD 


3967(4018) 
4773(4814) 


3009 (3020) 


3700(3771) 


3751 (3830) 


4010 (4050) 


4910(4941) 


4827 (4835) 


4830 (4839) 


4722 (4734) 












Halo 


800 x 600 


44.34(50.17) 


43.05 (46.46) 


37.36(41.06) 


39.9(44.21) 
34.92 (37.49) 


46.04 (49.46) 
37.43 (38.23) 


1,024x768 


36.93(39.19) 


33.8 (34.95) 


33.37 (36.04) 


1 ,280 x 1 ,024 


25.76 (26.34) 


23.04 (23.43) 


25.59 (26.06) 


25.64(26.17) 


25.75 (25.87) 




Doom 3 


800 x 600 


48.4 (49.4) 


42.4 (42.3) 


40.4 (37.9) 


44.6 (46.3) 


49.1 (49.5) 


1,024x768 


35.9 (35.9) 


30.7 (30.7) 


33.6 (34.6) 


35.3 (35.6) 


35.7 (35.7) 
24.9 (24.9) 


1,280x1,024 
'Effective FSB. 
"Lowest price 


25 (25) 


21.6(21.6) 


24.8 (25) 


25 (25) 


Actual FSB is integrated into chip, 
rom Pricegrabber.com as of 12/14/04. 









CPU / PCModder 117 






WISMffi 






Usually, we like to raise our CPU Vcore 

to provide stability at an FSB, 

but we were worried that the 

higher voltage would end up 

frying the motherboards. 



extravaganza. Usually, we like to raise 
our CPU Vcore to provide stability at 
an FSB, but we were worried that the 
higher voltage would end up frying the 
motherboards. This wouldn't have been 
a problem with the Athlon 64 2800+ or 
the Intel LGA775 P4 2.8GHz processor, 
but frying a mobo while testing the fifth 
of six 478-pin CPUs wasn't high on our 
priority list. Not only that, but a num- 
ber of our processors and motherboards 
had been previously overclocked; we 
didn't want to hasten their arrival to the 



hardware afterlife by feeding them too 
much voltage. 

We also didn't want to leave AMD off 
of the guest list for our little 2.8GHz 
processor soiree. We mentioned that 
AMD doesn't include clock speed in its 
naming scheme and that a lower-clocked 
AMD CPU usually has a higher-clocked 
Intel counterpart. We rounded up three 
AMD processors: the Athlon XP 2800+, 
Sempron 2800+, and Athlon 64 2800+ 
(see a pattern?) and threw them into the 
mix with Intel's band of chips. Check out 



the AMD's 2.8s sidebar for the skinny on 
these chips. 

Results & Rationalizations 

Several hours and countless bench- 
marks later, we're ready to declare some 
winners (not to mention produce "The 
Battle of Proxycon" for the History 
Channel). We wholly expected some of 
the following results, but there were a 
few nice surprises. 

Intel's 2.8GHz P4 Prescott takes home 
top honors as the best overall processor 
with solid performance to match its 
price. The 2.8GHz P4 Prescott also 
snagged the title of most overclockable. 
While we had to use different mother- 
boards for the 2.8GHz P4 Prescott 
and the 2.8GHz Xeon, the 2.8GHz 
P4 Prescott processor overclocked to 
3.37GHz on an Intel 875-based mobo 
(GIGABYTE'S 8KNXP). The 2.8GHz 
Xeon only managed 3.32GHz on the 
ASUS PC-DL, a different motherboard 
that shares the same chipset. 



CPU 


Intel Celeron 


Intel Celeron D 335 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8A 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8B 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8C 

Northwood 


Core 


Northwood 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Northwood 


Socket 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Socket 478 


Default FSB 


400MHz 


533MHz 


533MHz 


533MHz 


800MHz 


L2 Cache 


128KB 


256KB 


1MB 


512KB 


512KB 


Price** 


$100 


$101 


$165 


$181 


$209 


Mobo 


Chaintech 9PJL2 


Chaintech 9PJL2 


Chaintech 9PJL2 


Chaintech 9PJL2 


Chaintech 9PJL2 


Chipset 


Intel 865PE 


Intel 865PE 


Intel 865PE 


Intel 865PE 


Intel 865PE 




Default clock 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


Overclocked to 


3.14GHz 


3.31GHz 


3.23GHz 


3.19GHz 


3.25GHz 




3dMark03 


5043(5184) 


5330 (5473) 


5409 (5529) 


5304 (5430) 


5334 (5464) 




PCMark04 


3302 (3602) 


3724 (4342) 


3858 (4459) 


3810(4253) 


4371 (4929) 


CPU 


3371 (3762) 


3808(4419) 


3830 (4454) 


3764(4319) 


4233 (4885) 


Memory 


2800(3102) 


3836 (4492) 


4001 (4620) 


3817(4292) 


4366 (4938) 


Graphics 


3588(3631) 


3788 (3863) 


3969 (3995) 


3973 (3972) 


3943 (3984) 


HDD 


4835(4812) 


4826(4813) 


4829 (4846) 


4840 (4845) 


4865 (4873) 




Halo 


800 x 600 
1,024x768 


27.68 (30.86) 
26.06 (28.54) 


38.04 (42.55) 


44.55 (49.46) 


43.71 (49.11) 
37.08(39.15) 


44.36 (49.83) 
36.76 (39.39) 


33.82(36.61) 


37.44(39.13) 


1 ,280 x 1 ,024 


22.29 (23.67) 


25.68 (25.73) 


26.13(26.38) 


26.12(26.49) 


25.71 (26.38) 




Doom 3 


800 x 600 


30.8 (33.7) 


42.8 (45.6) 


48.4 (49.5) 


46.6 (47.9) 


47.1 (48.5) 


1,024x768 


29.2 (30.4) 


34.4 (35.2) 


35.8 (36) 


35.5 (35.8) 


35.6 (35.8) 


1,280x1,024 


23.7 (24.2) 


24.9 (25) 


25 (25) 


25 (25) 


25.0 (25.0) 


•Effective FSB. 
"Lowest price 


Actual FSB is integrated into chip, 
rom Pricegrabber.com as of 12/14/04. 









118 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












Declaring the best budget CPU proved 
to be a more difficult task than we thought. 
The Celeron D, which sports a Prescott 
core, turned in some surprisingly good 
scores and was an above-average overclock- 
er. It clearly beat the AMD Sempron 
2800+ in synthetic benchmarks, but our 
Halo and Doom 3 results were indistin- 
guishable. If you add to our budget brouha- 
ha the fact that Athlon 64 2800+ processors 
have fallen to a little more than $120, you 
have quite a conundrum. We give the nod 
to the Athlon 64 2800+, and we'll cross our 
fingers that enough 64-bit applications 
debut before it becomes fossilware. 

After looking over our chart, we regret 
we selected our AMD processors based on 
the company's naming scheme instead of 
picking comparably priced counterparts 
to Intel's 2.8GHz chips. Pitting the 
2.8GHz P4 Prescott against an Athlon 64 
3200+ might have been a fairer fight. 

The Socket LGA755 P4 turned out to 
be a nice surprise, producing some excel- 
lent numbers for its price. After struggling 



AMD'S 2.8S 

AMD hasn't been a fan of 
the clock speed name 
game for some time. None 
of the processors we tested 
from AMD's camp operated 
at 2.8GHz. The Athlon 64 
2800+, arguably the best 
AMD CPU among the three 
we tested, is clocked a full 
gigahertz lower than the 
Intel chips we tested. 

Yet, our trio of AMD 
processors held their own 
against Intel's offerings. 
The Sempron 2800+ CPU 
was more than a match for 
Intel's Celeron and stayed 
neck and neck with its 
Celeron D 335 in Halo and 
Doom 3. The Athlon XP 
2800+ processor proved to 
be a formidable challenger 
for the P4 2.8A and 2.8B 



and costs less than either 
of the two. Finally, the 
Athlon 64 2800+, which 
we found on Pricegrabber 
.com for less than the 
Athlon XP 2800+, may 
have lagged behind the P4 
2.8C and 2.8E processors 
in 3DMark03 and PC- 
Mar^ but was generally 
as good as or better than 
the Pentiums in Halo and 
Doom 3. Considering it 
costs between $50 and $75 
less than either 478-pin P4 
with an 800MHz FSB, the 
Athlon 64 2800+ is an 
intelligent buy for some- 
one who wants power 
without paying a premium. 
We mentioned that sys- 
tem bus and L2 cache play 
an important role in deter- 



mining a particular proces- 
sor's power, so you might 
wonder how the AMD 
CPUs stayed competitive 
with comparatively lower 
FSBs and L2 Caches. 
Without putting our Kmart 
Electrical Engineering 
Ph.D. to work, comparing 
AMD's and Intel's respec- 
tive FSB and L2 cache is an 
apples to oranges game. 
Because both companies 
use different architectures, 
each company's respective 
CPUs will utilize FSB and 
L2 cache differently. To 
make matters worse, pick- 
ing between AMD and 
Intel often boils down to 
the particular application 
or task you need to do. ▲ 





CPU 


Intel Pentium 4 2.8E 


Intel Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz 


AMD Sempron 2800+ 


AMD Athlon XP 2800+ 


AMD Athlon 64 2800+ 


Intel Xeon 


Core 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Thoroughbred 


Barton 


Newcastle 


Prestonia 


Socket 


Socket 478 


LGA775 


Socket A 


Socket A 


Socket 754 


Socket 604 


Default FSB 


800MHz 


800MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


800MHz* 


533MHz 


L2 Cache 


1MB 


1MB 


256KB 


512KB 


512KB 


512KB 


Price** 


$175 


$152 


$97 


$137 


$126 


$272 


Mobo 


Chaintech 9PJL2 


MSI 915PNeo2 Platinum 


DFI NFII Ultra Infinity 


DFI NFII Ultra Infinity 
NVIDIA nForce2 


GIGABYTE K8VNXP 


ASUS PC-DL 


Chipset 


Intel 865PE 


Intel 91 5P Express 


NVIDIA nForce2 


VIA K8T800 


Intel 875 




Default clock 


2.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


2GHz 
2.14Ghz 


2.08GHz 


1.8GHz 


2.8GHz 


Overclocked to 


3.32GHz 


3.14GHz 


2.25GHz 


1.98GHz 


3.32GHz 




3dMark03 


5416(5557) 


4785 (4858) 


4848(5017) 


5015(5157) 


5193(5307) 


5330(5471) 




PCMark04 


4381 (5155) 


4246 (4728) 


3416(3622) 


3592 (3998) 


3568(3881) 


5158(5942) 


CPU 


4308(5111) 


4351 (4869) 


3316(3533) 


3482 (3895) 


3399 (3706) 


5084(5910) 


Memory 


4799(5681) 


4920 (5468) 


2295 (2448) 


2330 (2600) 


3340 (3625) 


3859 (4520) 


Graphics 


3966(4016) 


3148(3192) 


3870 (3923) 


3948 (3990) 


3627 (3667) 


3947 (3988) 


HDD 


4847 (4777) 


4917(4915) 


4701 (4716) 


4724 (4686) 


4826 (4839) 


4887 (4899) 




Halo 


800 x 600 


45.36(51.96) 


44.02 (50.84) 


42.93(45.14) 


45.34 (52.86) 


46.12(50.96) 


44.03 (48.73) 


1,024x768 


37.89 (39.74) 


34.02(36.17) 


36.45 (37.35) 


37.46 (39.76) 


37.52 (39.03) 


37.04(39.91) 


1,280x1,024 


26.12(26.69) 


23.14(23.88) 


25.73(25.81) 


25.77 (26.38) 


25.75(26.19) 


25.69 (27.32) 




Doom 3 


800 x 600 


48.7 (49.7) 


43.7 (43.8) 


44 (45.9) 


47.5 (48.5) 


49.2 (49.7) 


47.7(49.1) 


1,024x768 


36 (35.9) 


31.6(31.6) 


34.7 (35.5) 


35.9 (35.7) 


35.7 (35.8) 


35.9 (36) 


1,280x1,024 


25 (25) 


22(21.9) 


24.6 (25) 


25 (24.9) 


25 (25) 


25 (25) 


•Effective FSB 
"Lowest price 


. Actual FSB is integrated into chip, 
from Pricegrabber.com as of 12/14/04. 











CPU / PCModder 119 






IMEWE 






Motherboards We Used To Test 



i\n,vfii 




GIGABYTE 8KNXP 

Chips tested: Intel Celeron, Intel Celeron D 

335, Intel Pentium 4 2.8A, Intel Pentium 4 2.8B, 

Intel Pentium 4 2.8C, Intel Pentium 4 2.8E 




GIGABYTE K8VNXP 

Chips tested: AMD Athlon 64 2800+ 




MSI 925X Neo-54G 

Chips tested: Intel Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz 




ASUS A7V880 

Chips tested: AMD Sempron 2800+, AMD 
Athlon XP 2800+ 




MSI 915PNeo2 Platinum 

Chips tested: Intel Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz 




EPoX 8KDA3+ 

Chips tested: AMD Athlon 64 2800+, 




DFI NFII Ultra Infinity 

Chips tested: AMD Sempron 2800+, AMD 
Athlon XP 2800+ 




Chaintech 9PJL2 

Chips tested: Intel Celeron, Intel Celeron D 

335, Intel Pentium 4 2.8A, Intel Pentium 4 2.8B, 

Intel Pentium 4 2.8C, Intel Pentium 4 2.8E 




ASUS PC-DL 

Chips tested: Intel Xeon 



to make sure all 478 pins of our other 
Pentium processors were properly aligned, 
the P4 520 2.8GHz's lands were a wel- 
come change. The lower 3DMark03 score 
should be attributed to the slower 
Chaintech SE5900, which uses a slower 
GPU than the Gainward card. Also, there 
was probably extra headroom on the Intel 
LGA775 Pentium 4, but Intel took mea- 
sures to limit overclocking on its 915 and 
925 chipsets. In reality, the two Prescotts 
are probably evenly matched, despite our 
scores. It's good to know that you should- 
n't have to compromise performance after 
upgrading to a Socket LGA775 mobo. 



It's also a little unfair to compare two 
2.8GHz Xeons with a 2.8GHz Prescott, 
as our tests might lead you to believe. 
While our dual Xeon setup soundly 
trounced all challengers in our synthetic 
benchmarks, these processors perform 
best with server and workstation appli- 
cations. The two 2.8GHz Xeons that we 
tested are also about three times as cost- 
ly as a single 2.8GHz Prescott P4. 

A Fond Farewell To Clock Speed 

We honestly doubt either company 
will completely abandon the quest for 
faster processors, but it's refreshing to 



see Intel abandon its "faster frequencies 
at all costs" mentality. Sure, a liquid 
nitrogen-cooled P4 overclocked to 
6GHz is something modders dream 
about, but it appears both companies 
have acknowledged the merits of boost- 
ing other CPU attributes. 

Be sure to take a gander at our compre- 
hensive chart and determine for yourself 
which particular chip hits the price-to- 
performance sweet spot. CPU 

by Vince Cogley 



120 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












Memory Moves To Massive 

Frequencies 

We Put Several DDR2 Modules To The Test 



DDR hit its fastest JEDEC- 
approved frequency (PC3200) 
long ago, and although manu- 
facturers continued to push the range of 
DDR frequencies, JEDEC moved on to 
the newer DDR2 standard. Because 
DDR2 has 240 rather than 184 pins, some 
users may hesitate before making the 
switch to DDR2-compatible mother- 
boards. However, DDR2 offers faster fre- 
quencies that provided incentive to up- 
grade. We tested several DDR2 modules 
to see how they compare to each other. 

How We Tested 

When we ordered parts for this issue, 
DDR2 was still relatively new, so the 
selection of available modules was nar- 
rower than it will be by the time you read 
this. We compared memory from five 
manufacturers, which we chose either for 
the company's reputation or for the range 
of DDR2 modules they offered. 

Our test system included an ASUS 
P5AD2 Deluxe motherboard, an Intel 
P4 520, a 128MB Chaintech NVIDIA 
GeForce PCX5900 video card, an 80GB 
Maxtor 6Y080M0 7,200rpm SATA drive 
with 8MB cache, and Windows XP 
Home. We tested the memory in 1GB 
dual-channel configurations, consisting of 
two 512MB memory modules. 

We used Sandra 2004's Memory 
Bandwidth Benchmark for our first 
round of tests. First, we ran the bench- 
mark at the system's default settings and 
with the memory at its rated frequen- 
cy. We then attempted to benchmark 
the memory at each of three speeds: 
533MHz (the frequency of our PC2- 
4200 and PC2-4300 DDR2), 667MHz 
(the frequency of PC2-5300), and 
675MHz (the frequency of our fastest 



memory, PC2-5400). This 

way, we could compare the 

memory modules not only 

against others rated at the 

same speed but also against 

others operating at the same frequency, 

either through under- or overclocking. 

After running the Sandra benchmark 
at as many of the four points (533MHz, 
667MHz, 675MHz, and maximum 
overclock) as we could, we ran the 
remainder of our benchmarks at each of 
the four memory speeds. Our other tests 
consisted of 3DMark05's Games tests, 
the Doom 3 timedemo (set at High 
quality and 800 x 600 resolution and 
run twice), the Halo timedemo (also set 
at 800 x 600 resolution), and the 
PCMark04 System Suite (making a spe- 
cial note of the PCMark04 Memory 
score). If we found that any of these tests 
did not run stable at a given frequency, 
we lowered the system bus, continuing 
to run benchmarks until we found a fre- 
quency at which we could complete the 
full set of benchmarks. 

DDR2-533 (PC2-4200 & PC2-4300) 

The selection of DDR2-533 modules 
was the widest in our roundup and includ- 
ed Corsair's ValueSelect PC2-4200, GelL's 
PC2-4300, Kingston's ValueRAM PC2- 
4200 and HyperX PC2-4300, Mushkin's 
PC2-4200, and PQI's PowerMemory 
PC2-4200. Although all of this memory 
has the same frequency (533MHz), there 
were differences in CAS latencies. We saw 
the greatest discrepancy in results after 
overclocking the memory. Some of the 
DDR2-533 modules were highly over- 
clockable, while others barely budged. 

Corsair ValueSelect PC2-4200. The 
Corsair RAM we tested had latencies of 




Corsair ValueSelect PC2-4200 



4-4-4-12 and was from the company's 
ValueSelect line. It does not include heat- 
spreaders or some of the frills of higher- 
end memory. However, don't let the 
rather plain appearance of the bare, green 
PCB fool you. This memory was one of 
the best all-around performers of the 
DDR2 that we tested. 

For instance, it achieved the highest 
overall Sandra scores of 12261:12080 
(Integer ALU: Float FPU) when over- 
clocked to 688MHz, faster than even 
PC2-5400 RAM. It also hit the best Halo 
frame rate (80.28fps) at this frequency. 
However, PCMark's Grammar Check 
failed at this overclock, so the top truly 
stable frequency for the ValueSelect 
memory was 685MHz, still yielding the 
highest Sandra Float FPU (5620) of any 
other stable configuration for any of the 
memory modules we tested. 

When we set all of our DDR2 to the 
same speed levels, Corsair's PC2-4200 
outperformed the other memory in sev- 
eral tests. With all memory set at the 
same frequencies, Corsair's ValueSelect 
had the highest Sandra Float FPU at 
533MHz (3079), best Sandra scores at 
533MHz (3537:3599), fastest first- 
run Doom 3 frame rate at 667MHz 
(38.5fps), and highest Halo frame rate at 
675MHz (49.5fps). 

GelL PC2-4300 533MHz DDR2. 
GelL's 533MHz DDR2 is labeled PC2- 
4300, but it operates at 533MHz, the 
same frequency as PC2-4200. GelL's 
memory comes in a sturdy plastic case 
that slides open, making the storage and 



CPU / PC Modder 121 






WISMffi 







GelL PC2-4300 



Kingston ValueRAM PC2-4200 



from its ValueRAM line. Similar to the 
Corsair ValueSelect memory, Kingston's 
ValueRAM also lacks heatspreaders. Once 
again, though, the bare-PCB DDR2 
DIMMs held up just fine in our tests. In 
fact, Kingston's ValueRAM PC2-4200 
was one of our best performers, scoring 
both the top overall PCMark04 Memory 
score of 12724 (when overclocked to 
688MHz) and the top overall PCMark04 
Memory score of 10243 at a stable speed 
(overclocked to 685MHz). 

Kingston's PC2-4200 was also one of 
the most overclockable of our DDR2-533 
memory modules. We could push the 
memory as far as 688MHz on most tests, 
and we could achieve a completely stable 
system with the memory operating at an 
effective 685MHz. 

Kingston HyperX PC2-4300. We test- 
ed a second set of Kingston DDR2-533, 



transport of memory easy and safe. GelL 
offers the same latencies as Corsair (4-4- 
4-12). GelL's memory, though, features 
aluminum heatspreaders. 

We could not overclock this memory 
very much, which prevented it from 
achieving better test results. In fact, we 
could not overclock it to benchmark at 
667MHz or 675MHz. The best we could 
do was 653MHz (best overclock) and 
650MHz (best stable overclock). 

At its default frequency of 533MHz, 
GelL's PC2-4300 returned Sandra scores of 
2715:2746, a PCMark score of 4213, and a 
PCMark Memory score of 4895. At the 
memory's maximum stable overclock of 
650MHz, we were able to hit 2911:2938 
with Sandra, 4912 with PCMark04, and 
5854 with PCMark Memory. 

Kingston ValueRAM PC2-4200. 
Next, we benchmarked Kingston's 4-4-4- 
12 latency, 533MHz DDR2 offering 



from Kingston's HyperX 
series. As expected, HyperX 
has a more impressive appear- 
ance, complete with blue heat- 
spreaders. The memory also 
features 3-4-4-8 latencies. 

Kingston's HyperX memory scored 
2716:2738 in Sandra and 4226:4902 
(PCMark04 System Suite: PCMark04 
Memory) in PCMark04. Its scores for 
3DMark05 (864), Doom 3 (37.1fps on 



Kingston HyperX PC2-4300 




Halo frame rates but only at the expense 
of system stability. 

At its default 533MHz, Mushkin's 
RAM performed lower than the average 



Mushkin PC2-4200 



memory scores. However, its overclocked 
scores were impressive enough to make up 
for the scores at 533MHz. 

OCZ High Performance Enhanced 
Bandwidth PC2-4200. At press time, 
OCZ's PC2-4200 memory had 3-2-2-8 
latency timings. We have generally had 
very good experiences with OCZ's 
DDR, so we were anxious to take the 
company's DDR2 for a spin. Our 
results were mixed. The memory did 





the first run and 43.6fps on the second 
run), and Halo (42.2fps) were all in line 
with what the other memory achieved, 
although the HyperX didn't finish in top 
place for any of these benchmarks. 

Mushkin PC2-4200. Mushkin's 
DDR2-533 is adorned with aluminum 
heatspreaders and has CAS latencies of 4- 
4-4-12. When all memory modules were 
overclocked to their highest stable setting, 
Mushkin's PC2-4200 (oper- 
ating at 685MHz) took the 
prize for top-scoring memo- 
ry in Halo's timedemo, at 
72.99fps. Other memory 
modules achieved higher 




OCZ High Performance Enhanced 
Bandwidth PC2-4200 

not overclock well compared to most of 
the other DDR2 modules we tested, 
even when we adjusted the CAS tim- 
ings. However, the frequencies at which 
the memory ran produced high bench- 
mark scores. 

For instance, when we ran 
all memory at 533MHz, 
OCZ scored highest in three 
tests. The second run of 
Doom 3 ran at 43.7fps, Halo 

hit 43.07fps, and PCMark04's 

System Suite score was 4237. The only 
real disappointment, then, was that we 
couldn't run Sandra with the system 
memory running faster than 667MHz, 
and we had to drop the frequency to 
658MHz before the memory would run 
all benchmarks. The most notable im- 
provement from 533MHz to 658MHz 
was in PCMark04's Memory score, which 
rose from 4954 to 5974. 

PQI PowerMemory DDR2-533 
PC2-4200. PQI is the least recognized 
name in our memory lineup. It surely 
doesn't draw the same respect as well- 
known brands such as Corsair or OCZ. 
However, the performance of PQI's 
PC2-4200 and PC2-5400 modules in 
our tests shows that these products are a 
worthwhile investment. 

Although PQI's DDR2-533 did not 
come in first in any of our 
tests, it came close a pair of 
times. Both it and the Mush- 
kin PC2-4200 hit 873 3D- 
Marks (with the PQI over- 
clocked to 675MHz), and 



with PQI's PC2-4200 overclocked to 
685MHz and 688MHz, it reached 38.6fps 
in the first run of Doom 3. Of the DDR2- 
533 memory operating at 533MHz, 
Corsair and PQI reached the highest 
PCMark04 Memory scores (both at 4961). 




PQI PowerMemory PC2-4200 



122 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












DDR2-667 (PC2-5300) & DDR2-675 
(PC2-5400) 

We didn't have many DDR2-667 and 
DDR2-675 memory modules to choose 
from. By the time this issue hits news- 
stands, these higher frequency modules 
should be more plentiful. Although we 
had only three pairs of memory faster 
than DDR2-533, our results should still 
give you a good idea of the potential 
DDR2 holds. 

GelL DDR2-667 PC2-5300. GelL's 
was the only DDR2-667 memory we 
could find in stock when we ordered 
parts. Several manufacturers even skipped 
DDR2-667 and jumped directly from 
DDR2-533 to DDR2-675. GelL's PC2- 
5300 has aluminum heatspreaders and 
latencies of 4-4-4-12. 



GelL PC2-5300 



either test, it does show what type of 
potential DDR2 holds as it is perfected 
and made more stable. 

Corsair XMS2 xtreme Performance 
DDR2 Twin2X PC2-5400. Finally, we 
made our way to the highest-rated 
DDR2 RAM, Corsair's and PQI's PC2- 
5400 sticks. Corsair's PC2- 
5400 has latencies of 4-4-4- 
12 and sports black alu- 
minum heatspreaders. 

Corsair's XMS2 PC2- 
5400 seemed to have a real 



ALU (7290). As we mentioned earlier, 
PQI had an advantage over Corsair in 
the Sandra benchmark. Our highest sta- 
ble score for the PQI was 7290 (at 
685MHz). We could overclock the PQI 
system a bit further, to 688MHz, but at 
this frequency, PCMark04's Grammar 




PQI TurboMemory PC2-5400 




GelL's PC2-5300 posted several 
impressive test results. First, with this 
memory overclocked to 688MHz, we 
achieved our highest Halo frame rate 
(86.4fps). However, there were some 
compromises to system stability at this 
level. There were no instability issues, 
however, when we hit the highest 
3DMark04 Games score (877) with 
GelL's memory overclocked to 685MHz. 

When we set all memory to 667MHz, 
GelL's PC2-5300 outperformed all 
other memory, in both Halo (48.55fps) 
and the PCMark04 System Suite 
(5086). Even more impressive, though, 
when we set all memory at 675MHz, 
GelL's PC2-5300 hit a higher PCMark04 
System Score (5343) than any of the 
other memory, including the DDR2- 
675 modules. 

As mentioned earlier, we could over- 
clock GelL's DDR2-667 to 688MHz, 
although the system wasn't stable enough 
to run PCMark04's Grammar Check. 
However, at 688MHz, the memory hit 
Sandra scores of 11711:10823 and a 
PCMark04 Memory score of 11391. 
While these aren't the highest scores for 



advantage in the PCMark04 benchmark, 
especially in the Memory test. When set 
at a 675MHz frequency, it received a 
PCMark04 Memory score of 6134, beat- 
ing not only PQI's PC2-5400 but also all 
of the PC2-4200, PC2-4300, and PC2- 
5300 clocked to 675MHz. 

Although this is impres- 
sive, we do reserve some of 
our enthusiasm. This is be- 
cause when we compared 
PQI's PC2-5400 with Cor- 

sair's, it was obvious that 

each excelled in a different area. PQI's 
memory did better in Sandra. What is 
really needed is a comparison of real- 
world performance, better evaluated 




Corsair XMS2 xtreme Performance DDR2 Twin2X PC2-5400 



through timedemos, such as those of 
Doom 3 or Halo. In these tests, the dif- 
ference in the results for the two pairs of 
DDR2-675 modules were almost negli- 
gible. When running at the intended 
675MHz, Corsair's and PQI's Doom 3 
scores were almost identical, while 
Corsair's 49.2 lfps Halo score just barely 
beat out PQI's 49.17fps. 

PQI TurboMemory PC2-5400. 
PQI's TurboMemory differs from its 
PowerMemory in that it includes alu- 
minum heatspreaders. A few of the 
DDR2 modules scored higher in 
Sandra's Integer ALU, but these systems 
were not entirely stable. Among stable 
systems, PQI had the highest Integer 



Check failed. This slightly unstable over- 
clock did result in high Sandra scores 
(9944:7680) and a highly impressive 
PCMark04 Memory score of 12479. 

Because our system had some difficul- 
ty running PCMark04 with the PQI 
memory running at 688MHz, we 
planned to run the benchmarks again 
at the highest stable frequency. Unfor- 
tunately, we only got as far as Sandra 
(7290:5609) and PCMark04 (8862: 
9440) at the stable 685MHz frequency 
because our ASUS P5AD2 Deluxe moth- 
erboard would not POST after we 
restarted the system to run 3DMark05, 
Doom 3, and Halo. We swapped out a 
few parts and confirmed that our moth- 
erboard had POSTed for the 
last time. 

What is notable about the 
scores we did record is that 
while there was considerable 
variety in the performance 
of DDR2-533 modules, the 
DDR2-675 modules returned very simi- 
lar scores, suggesting that the PC2-4200 
memory has had some time to mature 
and for manufacturers to tweak their 
DDR2-533 products for better perfor- 
mance. In contrast, DDR2-675 RAM 
is relatively new and therefore, both 
Corsair and PQI were working with very 
early releases that performed similarly 
in our tests. 

Tomorrow's Good Memory 

Our test results demonstrate what type 
of speed boosts are possible with DDR2. 
For instance, with DDR2-533 set at 
SPD (serial presence detect), the highest 
PCMark04 System Suite score was 4237, 



CPU / PC Modder 123 






WISMffi 






III henever possible, we tested each pair of memory modules at 533MHz, 667MHz, 675MHz, the highest overclock (at which Sandra 2004 would 
■III highest stable overclock (the frequency at which all our benchmarks ran properly). Below are our test results for each pair of DDR2 modules. 


run), and the 

▲ 




Settings 


Bus Speed 


Effective 
Memory 
Speed 


Effective 

CPU 

Speed 


Timings 
(if changed) 


Sandra 2004 
Int ALU 


DDR2-533 (PC2-4200 
& PC2-4300) 


Corsair PC4200 DDR2 


533MHz 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




3027 




Overclocked to 666MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 


4-5-5-15 


3537 




Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 


4-5-5-15 


3870 




Best Overclocks 


257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


4-5-5-15 


7112 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


4-5-5-15 


12261 


GelL DDR2-533 PC2-4300 


533MHz 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2715 




Overclocked to 666MHz (PC2-5300) 


N/A - Only overclocked to 653MHz. 












Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


N/A - Only overclocked to 653MHz. 












Best Overclocks 


244MHz 


651MHz 


3.42GHz 


5-5-5-15 


2911 






245MHz 


653MHz 


3.43GHz 


5-5-5-15 


2971 


Kingston PC2-4200 


533MHz 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2723 




Overclocked to 666MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3051 




Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3248 




Best Overclocks 


257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


5-5-5-15 


4749 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


5-5-5-15 


7549 


Kingston Hyper PC2-4300 


533MHz 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2716 




Overclocked to 666MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3063 




Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3344 




Best Overclocks 


256MHz 


683MHz 


3.58GHz 


5-5-5-15 


4894 






257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


5-5-5-15 


6219 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


5-5-5-15 


11375 


Mushkin PC2-4200 


533MHz 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2633 




Overclocked to 666MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 


5-5-5-15 


2975 




Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3278 




Best Overclocks 


257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


5-5-5-15 


4410 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


5-5-5-15 


8249 


OCZ High Performance 
Enhanced Bandwidth PC2-4200 




533MHz 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2817 




Overclocked to 666MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 


4-5-5-15 


3106 




Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


N/A - Only overclocked to 666MHz. 












Best Overclocks 


247MHz 


658MHz 


3.46GHz 


4-5-5-15 


2951 






248MHz 


661MHz 


3.47GHz 


4-5-5-15 


3041 






249MHz 


664MHz 


3.49GHz 


4-5-5-15 


3038 






250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 


4-5-5-15 


3106 


PQI PowerMemory 
DDR2-533 PC2-4200 




533MHz 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2990 




Overclocked to 666MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3469 




Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3943 




Best Overclocks 


256MHz 


683MHz 


3.59GHz 


5-5-5-15 


5379 






257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


5-5-5-15 


5674 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


5-5-5-15 


9728 


DDR2-667 (PC2-5300) 


GelL DDR2-667 PC2-5300 


Underclocked to 533MHz (PC2-4200) 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2974 




667MHz 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 




3406 




Overclocked to 675MHz (PC2-5400) 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 


5-5-5-15 


3931 




Best Overclocks 


257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


5-5-5-15 


6731 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


5-5-5-15 


11711 


DDR2-675 (PC2-5400) 


Corsair XMS2 DDR2 Twin2X 


Underclocked to 533MHz (PC2-4200) 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




2939 




Underclocked to 667MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 




3484 




675MHz 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 




3786 




Best Overclocks 


257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


4-5-5-15 


6401 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


4-5-5-15 


9219 


PQI TurboMemory PC2-5400 


Underclocked to 533MHz (PC2-4200) 


200MHz 


533MHz 


2.8GHz 




3060 




Underclocked to 667MHz (PC2-5300) 


250MHz 


667MHz 


3.5GHz 




3485 




675MHz 


253MHz 


675MHz 


3.54GHz 




3435 




Best Overclocks 


257MHz 


685MHz 


3.6GHz 


5-5-5-15 


7290 






258MHz 


688MHz 


3.61GHz 


5-5-5-15 


9944 



124 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












Sandra 2004 
Float FPU 


3DMark05 
Games 
first run 


Doom 3, High, 
800 x 600, 


Doom 3, 
second run 


Halo, 
800 x 600 


PCMark04. 
System Suite 


PCMark04, 
Memory 




3079 


868 


37.2fps 


43.6fps 


43fps 


4223 


4961 


3599 


865 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


48.05fps 


4914 


6133 


3784 


869 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


49.5fps 


5265 


6484 


5620 


869 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


69.06fps 


8272 


9101 


12080 


869 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


80.28fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


11144 


2746 


864 


37fps 


43.5fps 


41.75fps 


4213 


4895 






2938 


867 


38.3fps 


44fps 


48.39fps 


4912 


5854 


2965 


869 


38.3fps 


44fps 


Crashed. 


Windows crashed. 


N/A 


2740 


866 


37.1 fps 


43.5fps 


41.63fps 


4206 


4888 


3067 


868 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


47.33fps 


5015 


5989 


3224 


868 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


48.73fps 


5240 


6348 


4067 


866 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


63.96fps 


9175 


10243 


5704 


866 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


65.03fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


12724 


2738 


864 


37.1 fps 


43.6fps 


42.2fps 


4226 


4902 


3059 


863 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


47.53fps 


4970 


5994 


3230 


868 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


49.19fps 


5254 


6362 


4303 


865 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


61.05fps 


7220 


8255 


4831 


865 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


66.8fps 


9001 


9967 


11226 


871 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


66.76fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


11967 


2723 


862 


37.2fps 


43.6fps 


41.79fps 


4213 


4898 


3070 


865 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


47.49fps 


4899 


5979 


3152 


870 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


48.83fps 


5236 


6318 


3699 


873 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


72.99fps 


8662 


8759 


6067 


872 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


58.1 fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


12221 




2873 


867 


37.2fps 


43.7fps 


43.07fps 


4237 


4954 


3145 


Crashed 


Rebooted while loading. 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 




3005 


867 


38.4fps 


44fps 


47.43fps 


4915 


5974 


3053 


Crashed 


Rebooted while loading. 


N/A 


N/A 


4929 


6005 


3035 


871 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


47.57fps 


Crashed 


Crashed 


3145 


Crashed 


Rebooted while loading. 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 




3021 


866 


37.1 fps 


43.5fps 


42.07fps 


4205 


4961 


3503 


866 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


47.88fps 


4968 


6080 


3749 


873 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


48.1 fps 


5299 


6406 


4838 


866 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


59.98fps 


7424 


8354 


4647 


868 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


62.07fps 


8814 


9899 


8136 


865 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


62.83fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


12560 




3052 


865 


37.2fps 


43.5fps 


42.39fps 


4235 


4961 


3506 


867 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


48.55fps 


5086 


6055 


3755 


865 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


48.81 fps 


5343 


6423 


5560 


877 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


59.77fps 


9398 


9841 


10823 


868 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


86.4fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


11391 




3043 


865 


37.1 fps 


43.5fps 


41.93fps 


4217 


4956 


3558 


865 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


47.79fps 


4993 


6134 


3751 


868 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


49.21 fps 


5232 


6499 


5221 


866 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


56.06fps 


8669 


9783 


7680 


866 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


70.17fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


12568 


3060 


868 


37.2fps 


43.6fps 


42.21 fps 


4234 


4967 


3509 


868 


38.4fps 


44.1 fps 


47.57fps 


5016 


6082 


3597 


867 


38.5fps 


44.1 fps 


49.17fps 


5236 


6492 


5609 


N/A 








8862 


9440 


7680 


866 


38.6fps 


44.1 fps 


75.58fps 


N/A - Multithreaded Test 3, Grammar Check failed. 


12479 



CPU / PC Modder 125 






IMMffi 






w% y the time we completed our tests, more DDR2 had hit the market. The chart below summarizes the memory available from several major manufacturers and the 
EP price (as quoted at NewEgg.com, the site we found with the widest selection of DDR2). We also included a megahertz per dollar figure for each memory module. 
Keep in mind that prices reflect not only megahertz but also latency timings, inclusion or omission of heatspreaders, and other factors. 


Density 
& Latency 


Frequency 


Manufacturer 


Memory Module 


Lowest Price 
Found 


MHz/dollar 


Best Value 

(Best In Category In Bold) 




533MHz 


Corsair 


PC2-4200 (ValueSelect) 


$65 


8.2MHz/dollar 


Corsair ValueSelect PC2-4200 




Mushkin 


PC2-4200 (Retail) 


$93 


5.73MHz/dollar 




256MB, 4-4-4-12 




ocz 


PC2-4200 

(Value Series) 


$90.25 


5.91 MHz/dollar 








PQI 


PC2-4200 


$68.25 


7.81 MHz/dollar 






667MHz 


Crucial 


PC2-5300 (Ballistix OEM) 


$119.27 


5.59MHz/dollar 


Crucial Ballistix PC2-5300 




675MHz 


Kingston 


PC2-5400 (HyperX, OEM) 


$103 


6.55MHz/dollar 






PQI 


PC2-5400 (Turbo) 


$87.25 


7.74MHz/dollar 


PQI TurboMemory PC2-5400 


256MB, 3-3-3-8 


400MHz 


Crucial 


PC2-3200 (OEM) 


$75.26 


5.31 MHz/dollar 


Crucial PC2-3200 (OEM) 


533MHz 


Crucial 


PC2-4200 (Ballistix OEM) 


$112.26 


4.75MHz/dollar 


Crucial Ballistix PC2-4200 (OEM) 




533MHz 


Corsair 


PC2-4200 (ValueSelect) 


$123.27 


4.32MHz/dollar 








GelL 


PC2-4300 

(Value Series) 


$150 


3.55MHz/dollar 








Kingston 


PC2-4200 

(ValueRAM, OEM) 


$176 


3.03MHz/dollar 








Mushkin 


PC2-4200 (Retail) 


$119.27 


4.47MHz/dollar 


Mushkin PC2-4200 (Retail) 






OCZ 


PC2-4200 

(Value Series) 


$160.25 


3.33MHz/dollar 




512MB, 4-4-4-12 




PQI 


PC2-4200 


$135.25 


3.94MHz/dollar 






667MHz 


Crucial 


PC2-5300 (Ballistix Retail) 


$202.27 


3.3MHz/dollar 






GelL 


PC2-5300 

(Value Series) 


$174.27 


3.83MHz/dollar 


GelL Value Series PC2-5300 




675MHz 


Corsair 


PC2-5400 (XMS2) 


$176.25 


3.83MHz/dollar 








Corsair 


PC2-5400 (XMS2 Pro) 


$206 


3.28MHz/dollar 








Kingston 


PC2-5400 
(HyperX, OEM) 


$150.25 


4.49MHz/dollar 


Kingston HyperX PC2-5400 (OEM) 






OCZ 


PC2-5400 
(Performance Series) 


$178.50 


3.78MHz/dollar 








PQI 


PC2-5400 (Turbo) 


$172.25 


3.92MHz/dollar 




512MB, 4-3-3-12 


533MHz 


OCZ 


PC2-4200 (Platinum Series, 
Enhanced Bandwidth) 


$190.25 


2.8MHz/dollar 


OCZ Platinum Series, 
Enhanced Bandwidth PC2-4200 


512MB, 3-3-3-8 


400MHz 


Crucial 


PC2-3200 (OEM) 


$152.26 


2.63MHz/dollar 






Kingston 


PC2-3200 

(ValueRAM, OEM) 


$144.46 


2.77MHz/dollar 


Kingston ValueRAM PC2-3200 


512MB, 3-2-2-8 


533MHz 


OCZ 


PC2-4200 (Platinum Series, 
Enhanced Bandwidth, Rev. 2) 


$215.25 


2.48MHz/dollar 


OCZ Platinum Series, 
Enhanced Bandwidth 
PC2-4200, Rev. 2 




533MHz 


Crucial 


PC2-4200 (OEM) 


$279 


1.91 MHz/dollar 








Mushkin 


PC2-4200 (Retail) 


$359 


1 .48MHz/dollar 




1GB, 4-4-4-12 




OCZ 


PC2-4200 

(Value Series) 


$309.75 


1 T2MHz/dollar 








PQI 


PC2-4200 


$245 


2.18MHz/dollar 


PQI PC2-4200 




667MHz 


GelL 


PC2-5300 (Value Series) 


$315 


2.12MHz/dollar 


GelL Value Series PC2-5300 




675MHz 


OCZ 


PC2-5400 (Performance Series) 


$365 


1.85MHz/dollar 


OCZ Performance Series PC2-5400 


1GB, 3-3-3-8 


400MHz 


Crucial 


PC2-3200 (OEM) 


$315.27 


1 .27MHz/dollar 


Crucial PC2-3200 (OEM) 




533MHz 


PQI 


PC2-4200 (Turbo) 


$265.75 


2.01 MHz/dollar 


PQI TurboMemory PC2-4200 


1GB, 3-2-2-8 


533MHz 


OCZ 


PC2-4200 (Platinum Series, 
Enhanced Bandwidth, Rev. 2) 


$402.25 


1 .33MHz/dollar 


OCZ Platinum Series, 
Enhanced Bandwidth 
PC2-4200, Rev. 2 



while PQI's PC2-5400 set at its intended 
675MHz achieved 5236. Similarly, the 
highest DDR2-533 PCMark04 Memory 
score (running at 533MHz) was 4961. In 
contrast, Corsair's DDR2-675 sticks, run- 
ning at 675MHz, managed 6499 in the 
same benchmark. 

Some of the benchmark scores we hit 
while overclocking the DDR2 memory 
were also phenomenal. In particular, we 



were astounded by the Corsair memo- 
ry's PC2-4200 reading of 12261:12080 
in Sandra, even if the system was slightly 
unstable. We saw impressive DDR2 
RAM results, even at very stable settings 
(7290:5620 in Sandra with the PQI 
PC2-5400 RAM, 72.99fps rate in Halo 
with Mushkin's PC2-4200, and 9175: 
10243 in PCMark04 with Kingston's 
PC2-4200 RAM). 



When you consider that most of the 
DDR2 modules we tested still had rela- 
tively high latencies and that DDR2 will 
eventually support lower latencies than 
the older DDR standard did, you can see 
what type of speed enhancements DDR2 
will offer in the near future. CPU 

by Kylee Dickey 



126 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












Wrong-Way RAM 

We Destroy Expensive Memory For Your Benefit 



Hardcore PC enthusiasts, the 
kinds who relish the dangers of 
overclocking and laugh when 
yet another $200 CPU dies from a mas- 
sive overclocking session, know that 
the best way to obtain new technology 
knowledge is by trial and error, even if 
that means a lot of expensive silicon must 
die in the process. Though many users 
focus on punishing their CPUs, we decid- 
ed to take a different tack by abusing 
some expensive RAM instead. 

Our purpose wasn't just to annihilate 
leftover parts we ordered for this issue. 
Rather, we wanted to see exactly what 
would happen when we broke the rules of 
RAM that so many of us take for granted. 
We mixed and matched modules with 
different speeds, and we even inserted 
SDRAM into a DDR RAM slot, just to 
see what sort of horrific events would 
unfold. In the end, we learned a lot about 
what not to do with $250 RAM modules, 
but we also found that by bending the 
rules a little, you can learn a lot about 
what you should and shouldn't do with 
your memory modules. 

RAM Rules 

Installing new memory or tweaking 
your system's existing RAM can dramati- 
cally change your PC's efficiency and 
speed. But before you make any changes 
to your RAM, you have to understand 
some of the basic principles that drive 
RAM operation. Otherwise, you'll hinder 
your system's operation and possibly 
cause permanent damage to your memory 
modules or motherboard. 

As with so many aspects of computer 
technology, RAM specifications some- 
times seem more complex than they real- 
ly are. There are several types of RAM in 
widespread use today, including nearly 
obsolete SDRAM, faster DDR RAM, 
and the newer DDR2 standard. In addi- 
tion, as you browse online memory retail- 
ers, you will see dual-channel RAM, 



registered RAM, ECC 
(Error-Correction Code) 
RAM, Rambus RAM, 
and other esoteric RAM 
terms that make little or 
no sense to the uniniti- 
ated. Fortunately, as a 
home PC user, you're 
likely to encounter only 
SDRAM, DDR RAM, 
and DDR2 RAM, in their 
various incarnations. 

Although SDRAM is 
rapidly marching toward 

obsolescence, it still works 

fine for some PCs. DDR SDRAM, or 
DDR RAM for short, transfers data 
roughly twice as fast as SDRAM. It also 
comes primarily in modules that have 1 84 
pins, so you can't insert a stick of DDR 
RAM onto a motherboard designed for 
SDRAM, which typically uses 168 pins. 

ECC RAM is used in servers and other 
high-level computers where data accuracy 
is of utmost importance. This kind of 
RAM comes with built-in processes that 
monitor the data that make up each byte 
the module helps to calculate. In addition 
to verifying the accuracy of the data, this 
kind of RAM can also correct any mis- 
takes that occur. Because of these charac- 
teristics, ECC RAM is significantly more 
expensive than regular DDR RAM. 

Like ECC RAM, registered RAM is used 
primarily in servers and powerful worksta- 
tions, and like ECC RAM, registered RAM 
costs more than other types of memory 
normally used in home PCs. Registered 
RAM is also sometimes called buffered 
RAM because it uses different timings dur- 
ing its work cycles; those distinctive timings 
also make registered RAM incompatible 
with home PC motherboards, which almost 
always use more common and more afford- 
able unbuffered, or unregistered, RAM. 

Both SDRAM and DDR RAM can be 
buffered or registered. But as we've already 
indicated, regular unbuffered, non-ECC, 




Our first MSI motherboard was equipped to handle either DDR or 
DDR2 RAM-but not both at the same time. 



and nonregistered RAM is fine for home 
use where it's not absolutely critical that 
each and every byte be calculated perfectly. 
Dual-channel DDR RAM has a mis- 
leading name and refers to the fact that 
dual-channel motherboards have two 
memory channels instead of one, making 
them more efficient than single-channel 
motherboards. So it's not really the RAM 
that's dual-channel, it's the motherboard, 
and as such, the RAM you use on a dual- 
channel motherboard doesn't need to be 
the same brand, have the same timings, or 
even the same speed. Many retailers sell 
dual-channel RAM in expensive pairs and 
imply that these pairs are the only way to 
ensure the fastest possible performance, 
but the reality is that a motherboard's 
dual-channel capabilities are what make 
for speedier operation. 

The Torture Chamber 

Knowing all of the specifics about dif- 
ferent RAM types didn't dissuade us from 
trying to mix and match memory in all 
the wrong ways. After constructing a base 
test system, we set out to install RAM in 
various incorrect configurations, just to 
see what would happen. We expected 
problems, of course, but the surprising 
numbers and occasional pyrotechnics that 
resulted during some of our tests made 
our efforts worthwhile. 



CPU / PC Modder 127 






IMMffi 






Our test system consisted of an MSI 
915G Combo motherboard paired with a 
2.8GHz Pentium 4 LGA CPU. The MSI 
motherboard we used is special in that not 
only does it accept cutting-edge DDR2, 
but it also lets you install regular DDR 
RAM. We also installed a Lite-On 
53X/32X/52X/16X CD-RW/DVD drive, 
an 80GB, 7,200rpm Maxtor SATA hard 
drive, and then used a 300W Antec PSU. 
After constructing the system, we installed 
Windows XP Professional Edition. 

To better judge RAM performance dur- 
ing our tests, we used PCMark04 and 
SiSoftware's Sandra. In PCMark04, we ran 
the system suite and memory tests. In 
Sandra, we executed the memory band- 
width benchmark to find IntiFPU (Integer 
and Floating Point) scores, but first, in 
order to put more stress on the RAM 
modules we used, we changed this test's 
default configuration by accessing the 
options and clearing the checkboxes for 
nine settings that often help boost RAM 
scores. If you want to duplicate our tests, 
you'll have to clear the checkboxes for 
Enable MMX (Integer) Benchmark, Enable 
Enhanced MMX (Integer) Benchmark, 
Enable SSE (Integer) Benchmark, Enable 
SSE2 (Integer) Benchmark, Enable MMX 
(Float) Benchmark, Enable Enhanced 
MMX (Float) Benchmark, Enable SSE 
(Float) Benchmark, Enable SSE2 (Float) 
Benchmark, and Enable Buffering/Block- 
Prefetch Benchmarks. 

Mixing module capacities typically 
isn't much of a problem, and that is espe- 
cially true if you're using SDRAM or 
DDR RAM. If you already 
have 256MB of SDRAM 
installed onto your moth- 
erboard, it's OK to add 
128MB or 512MB or more 
RAM to increase your 
memory power. The same 
rule applies to DDR RAM. 
However, you cannot and 
should not try to install 
SDRAM and DDR RAM 
in the same computer. 
Later, we'll explain what 
happens when you force one kind of 
RAM into a slot that was intended to 
accommodate a different type of module. 





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Our stick of ECC DDR2 RAM worked just fine in 
our MSI motherboard. 




Registered RAM, like the kind found on this 
module, is great for high-end servers. But as 
we learned, it won't work with a motherboard 
that's not designed for buffered memory. 




This DDR RAM adds up to 1 GB of fast memory, 
but in our tests it also amounted to trouble. 
When we added DDR RAM to a system that 
already had DDR2 RAM inside, the computer 
never once booted. 




These RAM modules are from different manu- 
facturers and have different speed specifications, 
but they do have one thing in common-they 
worked just fine when we mixed them together. 



Combining modules with different 
capacities is one matter. Combining mod- 
ules that work at different speeds is anoth- 
er issue altogether, but the outcome is 
clear— if you install SDRAM or DDR 
RAM modules of varying speeds, your 
computer will drop your RAM perfor- 
mance to the speed of the slowest module. 
Though you'll never hear it from a 
memory maker, you can also mix modules 
made by different companies. Often, you 
will hear RAM makers or memory retailers 
indicate that you shouldn't combine 
memory in this fashion, ostensibly because 
you won't receive the best possible perfor- 
mance if you do. However, in most situa- 
tions, the memory will simply operate at 
the speed of the slowest module. 

Mix it up. There was only one way to 
find the results of mixing various types of 
RAM, and that was to do it ourselves. We 
combined various capacities, brands, and 
speeds of memory to see exactly how dif- 
ferent RAM recipes would affect bench- 
mark scores. We began with some combi- 
nations we were sure wouldn't work. 

First, we inserted a single stick of regis- 
tered Crucial DDR2 ECC in our test PC. 
Because our motherboard wasn't designed 
to work with registered RAM, our com- 
puter would not boot. We ditched the 
registered RAM and installed a 1GB stick 
of Kingston ValueRAM 240-Pin ECC 
DDR2 PC2-4200 instead. This module 
worked fine on its own, and also with 
other DDR2 modules, although the ECC 
capabilities obviously did not work when 
we used non-ECC RAM. 

For curiosity's sake, we 
installed both a DDR2 and 
DDR module on our MSI 
motherboard to see if the 
computer would load our 
operating system. As expect- 
ed, and in spite of the fact 
that we tried several different 
brands of each type of RAM, 
our computer refused to 
boot in this configuration. 

Those of you with more 

aggressive dispositions might 

be wondering why we didn't try to install 

SDRAM into a DDR RAM slot. Well, 

because RAM modules are keyed to fit 



128 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












Misaligned Memory 

1 ■ I <-' tested different combinations of RAM on two motherboards, sticking primarily with an MSI 91 5G Combo. For a 
If If Platinum 54-G. At the end of this chart we list some of the RAM combinations that prevented our computer from ; 

Module PCMark04 

Suite 
1.5GB 


ew of our 1GB tests, we used 
tarting up properly. 

PCMark04 Sandra 
Memory (Integer) 


m MSI 925X Neo 

Sandra (Floating 
Point) 


512MB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300/ 1CB Kingston ValueRAM 240-Pin ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 


3694 


4666 


1878 


1924 


512MB PQI DDR2-PC4200/ 1GB Kingston ValueRAM 240-Pin ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 


3688 


4688 


1855 


1997 


1 GB Kingston ValueRAM ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 / 5 1 2MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 


3663 


3931 


1875 


1939 


1 GB Kingston ValueRAM ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 /512MB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 


3662 


3950 


1858 


1942 


1 GB Kingston ValueRAM ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 /512MB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300 


3667 


3932 


1870 


1939 


1.2GB 








1 GB Kingston ValueRAM ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 / 256MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 


3652 


3933 


1854 


1879 


1GB 










1GB Kingston ValueRAM Dual Channel Kit DDR PC-3200 (Two modules) 


3688 


4592 


2383 


2389 


512MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300/ 512MB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300 


3648 


4666 


2466 


2483 


1GB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 (Two modules) 


3697 


4670 


2467 


2494 


1GB PQI DDR2-PC4200 (Two modules) 


3694 


4662 


2439 


2477 


512MB PQI DDR2-PC4200 / 512MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 


3702 


4753 


2784 


2765 


1GB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300 (Two modules) 


3697 


4676 


2504 


2529 


512MB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300/ 512MB PQI DDR2-PC4200 


3643 


4663 


2480 


2495 


1GB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 (Two modules) 


3697 


4693 


2507 


2539 


512MB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2/ 512MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 


3682 


4679 


2418 


2474 


512MB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2/ 512MB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300 


3694 


4665 


2419 


2475 


512MB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2/ 512MB PQI DDR2-PC4200 


3690 


4668 


2420 


2471 


1GB OCZ Platinum Enhanced Bandwidth DDR2 PC-4200 (Two modules) 


3699 


4742 


2582 


2647 


512MB OCZ Platinum Enhanced Bandwidth DDR2 PC-4200/ 512MB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300 


3675 


4658 


2421 


2473 


1GB (MSI 925X Neo Platinum 54-G) 










1GB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 (Single channel) 


4092 


4326 


2099 


2113 


1GB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 (Dual channel) 


4135 


4918 


2687 


2774 


512MB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 / 512MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 (Single channel) 


4091 


4332 


2090 


2113 


512MB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 / 512MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 (Dual channel) 
512MB 


4137 


4915 


2685 


2772 


512GB Kingston ValueRAM DDR-PC3200 (One module) 


3600 


3215 


1438 


1441 


512MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 (Two modules) 


3612 


3234 


2498 


2524 


256MB Mushkin DDR-PC3200 / 256MB Crucial ECC Registered DDR2 PC2-3200 


3687 


4675 


2526 


2503 


512MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 (One module) 
768MB 


3649 


3898 


1853 


1858 


512MB OCZ Platinum Enhanced Bandwidth DDR2 PC-4200 / PQI 256MB DDR2 PC2-5400 


3661 


3776 


1991 


2007 


512MB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300/ 256MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 


3644 


3777 


2033 


2077 


256MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 / 512MB Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300 


3656 


3949 


1901 


1922 


512MB Mushkin PC2-4200 DDR2 / 256MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 


3663 


3906 


1952 


1974 


512MB PQI DDR2-PC4200 / 256MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 


3661 


3904 


2001 


2065 


256MB 










256MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 


3626 


3816 


1744 


1882 


256MB Mushkin DDR-PC3200 
Did Not Boot 


3530 


3126 


1288 


1382 


256MB Crucial ECC Registered DDR2 PC2-3200 










256MB PQI DDR2 PC2-5400 / 512GB Kingston ValueRAM DDR-PC3200 










1 GB Kingston ValueRAM ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 / 256MB Crucial ECC Registered DDR2 PC2-3200 










1 GB Kingston ValueRAM ECC DDR2 PC2-4200 / 256MB Mushkin DDR-PC3200 










1 GB Geil Value Series DDR2 PC2-4300 / 256MB Mushkin DDR-PC3200 











CPU / PC Modder 129 






IMMffi 






their slots, it's difficult to 
insert them incorrectly — 
however, as we learned, 
it isn't totally impossible. 
Suffice it to say we don't 
encourage anyone to 
repeat our experience, 
because when we turned 
on our PC, a portentous 
electrical smell immedi- 
ately filled our nostrils, 
and though we immedi- 
ately yanked the power 
cord, it was too late. We 
inspected our RAM slot 
and found some scorch 
marks that would look much better on 
blackened salmon than expensive memo- 
ry. Both our RAM module and mother- 
board were completely fried. 

DDR2 and you. Once we did away 
with some of our misdirected RAM com- 
binations (and put away the fire extin- 
guisher), we channeled the bulk of our 
energy into blending different types of 
DDR2 together. For most of our tests, 
we used memory capacities that totaled 
1GB, although we also tried setups with 
total memory levels of 512MB, 768MB, 
and 1.5GB. 

To get an idea of how substituting cer- 
tain modules would affect our benchmark 
scores, we first had to establish a few base- 
line scores. We installed matched pairs of 
modules, executed both of our tests, and 
then substituted a new module in order to 
break up the pair. For example, we insert- 
ed two 512MB modules of Geil Value 
Series Dual Channel DDR2 4300 and 
received a PCMark04 suite score of 3694 
and a memory 4662. Our Sandra scores 
(2439:2477) were also very good. 

Then we removed one of the Geil mod- 
ules and began substituting various other 
DDR2 modules with 512MB capacities. 
We guessed that our benchmark scores 
would drop because of the new module, 
but we were wrong. We inserted a stick of 
PQI DDR2 PC2-4200, ran our tests, and 
found that our scores were nearly identical 
and, in some cases, were actually higher 
than with the Geil-only setup. 

To prove this wasn't a fluke, we 
removed the PQI RAM and inserted a 




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It's not just the angle that makes these modules look different, 
DDR and DDR2 modules have different pin configurations, 
and thus, they fit only in slots especially designed for them. 



stick of 512MB Mushkin PC2-4200. 
Again, the scores we saw were almost 
exactly the same as with the first two 
combinations we tested. 

Then we pulled both of our Geil mod- 
ules and inserted two 512MB modules 
of Kingston HyperX DDR2 PC2-4300. 
With these modules, we recorded a solid 
system suite score (3643) in PCMark04, 
along with a memory score of 3817. The 
Sandra scores we saw (2480:2495) were 
very similar to those from the Geil RAM. 

Across the board, our 1GB DDR2 tests 
showed that it didn't really matter which 
brand or speed of RAM we used in our 
machine, because the final benchmark 
scores were always within a few points of 
each other. When we changed our system 
to include different RAM capacities, the 
results were much the same, proving that 
it's not necessarily a bad idea to combine 
varied speeds and brands of DDR2 RAM. 

The right slots. However, no matter 
which brands and speeds of DDR2 you 
use, you still have to be sure you install 
the modules in the correct slots, other- 
wise you'll be robbing your system of its 
full potential. In same cases, you might 
even cut your operating efficiency by a 
huge percentage. 

For our second round of tests, we 
installed the same CPU on an MSI 925X 
Neo Platinum 54-G motherboard. This 
dual-channel board has four slots (two 
orange slots and two green slots) designed 
to accommodate DDR2 RAM, which 
gave us many more installation options as 
compared to our MSI motherboard. 



It's easy to see why 
many users would assume 
that you should install 
two RAM modules into 
like-colored slots. We 
learned that this is not 
a safe assumption. We 
installed two 512MB 
Mushkin modules into 
the two orange slots clos- 
est to the CPU and ran 
our tests. The memory 
score in PCMark04 was 
4326, and our Sandra 
scores (2099:2113) both 
looked acceptable. 
Then we removed the second module 
and installed it in the first green slot. 
When we reran our tests, our scores 
in PCMark04 and Sandra improved to 
4918 and 2687:2774, respectively. That's 
because by making this switch, we 
engaged the dual-channel capabilities on 
the motherboard, a feature that clearly 
made a tremendous difference in our 
computing power. There's only one way 
to verify that you've installed your RAM 
correctly, and that's to consult your users 
manual for the proper dual-channel setup. 

Unexpected End 

A lot of our memory experiments pro- 
vided the results we expected. In many 
cases, our computer would start up when 
we used certain module configurations, 
and in other situations, performance 
declined when we matched fast RAM 
with slower memory. 

However, our tests also proved that 
it's not always necessary to follow the rec- 
ommendations of RAM manufacturers. 
Mixing DDR2 modules with different 
speeds and capacities often didn't hurt per- 
formance, and in some scenarios, blending 
various modules actually increased our 
computer's operating efficiency — not the 
kind of news marketing hacks want you to 
see. So don't be afraid to do your own 
RAM experimentation, because you might 
save money by avoiding expensive and 
pointless kits, and in the end, your com- 
puter might run faster, too. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



130 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




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Clocking Corner 



Make Your PC Sizzle 



If you're really serious about 
boosting the speed of your 
PC, you should consider over- 
clocking your system. This Q&A is for 
those of you who know a few things 
about the process but want to delve fur- 
ther into overclocking. We've included 
general overclocking advice, as well as 
some specific scenarios that'll help you 
fire up your PC. Follow these sugges- 
tions to make your system run at its 
absolute best. 



Q 



Can I change the multiplier on an 
AMD Athlon XP to overclock it? 



A Yes. A product called Speed Strip 
SSA-1 ( www.speed-strip.com ) is 
designed for AMD XP processors. 
Locate the processor code on your chip. 
The processor code is the first 13-digit 
number on the second line of the label 
on your chip. If the code starts with 
"AXDA," you can use the Speed Strip to 
unlock your CPU. 

Speed Strip is a small plastic strip 
with holes corresponding to the pins 



on the underside of your chip. 
The holes that correspond to the multi- 
plier pins are interconnected by a small 
metal plate on the underside of the 
plastic strip. Install the strip on the 
underside of your processor according to 
the included instructions and reinstall 
the chip onto your motherboard and 
you're done. 

Once you've unlocked the multipli- 
ers, you can change them until you have 
the fastest possible stable system. Enter 
your system's BIOS to change the 
processor's multiplier. Make sure you 
only change the settings 2% or 3% at a 
time so that you don't freeze your sys- 
tem. Also, if a certain multiplier doesn't 
work for your system, you might want 
to try the next higher setting. Some- 
times a specific configuration will be 
unstable while the system as a whole still 
has room for improvement. 



Q 



I don't want to voltage mod my 
ATI RADEON video card, but I 
want to get more performance 
out of it. What can I do? 




Check the processor code on your AMD processor to see if you can use Speed Strip to 
give your CPU a boost. 



A Even if you're not yet bold 
enough to risk frying your video 
card by modifying the voltage 
supplied to it, you can still squeeze a little 
extra power out of it. Normally, you can 
overclock a RADEON 9800 Pro from 
338 to 366MHz simply by modifying the 
multipliers in the BIOS. If you add some 
passive heatsinks to the video card's 
memory, you can increase the memory 
speed by about another 6MHz, bringing 
the total up to 372MHz. You should also 
be able to change the core speed in the 
BIOS to about 421MHz. If you don't 
want to mess with the BIOS directly, you 
can use a program such as PowerStrip 
3.54 ( www.entechtaiwan.net/util/ps 
.shtm ) to change the card's settings. If 
these tweaks still aren't fast enough for 
you, refer to the Modding Q&A column 
in this issue (page 217) for some more 
serious options. 

QHow do I overclock a BIOS that 

A If your BIOS doesn't have a 
FSB setting, you can still over- 
clock it with a little help from a 
third-party program. CPUCool ( www 
.cpufsb.de/CPUCOOL.HTM ) and a 
smaller, similar program, CPUFSB 
( www.cpufsb.de/CPUFSB.HTM ) are two 
programs that will let you overclock 
your PC without entering the BIOS. 
Also, some motherboard manufacturers, 
such as GIGABYTE, include software 
with their boards that let you overclock 
the system. 

You can also download a program 
called SoftFSB ( www.majorgeeks.com/ 
download434.html ). This slick program 
lets you change the FSB setting in real- 
time but will not permanently change 
the settings on your motherboard. 



132 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 












Because the changes aren't permanent, 
you'll have to run the software each time 
Windows starts (it has an option to 
automatically load when Windows 
starts). SoftFSB supports motherboards 
that would not normally let you over- 
clock them and allows more FSB speeds 
on some motherboards that you could 
not normally change using jumpers or 
the BIOS. 



How Do I Install NVIDIA Coolbits? 



Q 



What timing settings work best 
when using an AMD system and 
Corsair RAM? 



A For most motherboards, to over- 
clock your system's memory, 
enter the BIOS and look for 
Memory Settings or something similar. 
The specific memory settings you 
should adjust are for CAS Latency and 
Timing. Lowering these options will 
overclock the memory. CAS 2 timing 1 
will run faster than CAS 2.5 timing 2, 
and so on. Latency settings typically are 
expressed as four-digit numbers separat- 
ed by dashes, such as 2-2-2-5 (these 
numbers refer to, respectively, CAS 
latency, RAS-to-CAS delay, RAS 
precharge, and ACT-to-precharge 
delay). You can mix and match your 
memory modules with different speeds 
without affecting the amount of memo- 
ry, but the memory speed will be limited 
to the slowest of the modules that you 
install. For instance, if you install a 
512MB module of PC2100 RAM and a 
512MB module of PC3700 RAM, you 
will have 1,024MB of memory that will 
run at the speed of the PC2100 module. 
After plugging the memory stick(s) 
into your system's motherboard, start 
out with timings of 2-3-3-6 at about a 
200MHz FSB speed. Raise the FSB 
speed slowly until you experience stabil- 
ity problems (likely at about 213 to 
215MHz). Once that happens, try rais- 
ing the memory voltage to around 2.8V. 
Keep raising the FSB and the voltage 
slowly until you max out the system's 
performance why still maintaining sys- 
tem stability. Typically, you should hit 
your limit around a FSB speed of 
225MHz, with the voltage set to 2.9 at 
2-3-3-6 timings. 



N 



VIDIA's Coolbits is a feature buried 
in NVIDlA's drivers that gives you 
additional control over your video card's 
properties, including the ability to over- 
clock your card. You'll have to tweak 
your registry to use Coolbits, so create a 
backup before you attempt this proce- 
dure (always good advice when registry 
modification is in order). To activate 
Coolbits, click Start, Run, and then type 
regedit, which will open your system's 
Registry. Next, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_ 
MACHINE\SOFTWARE\NVIDIA 
Corporation\Global\NVTweak, select 
New DWORD value, and name the value 
Coolbits. Right-click Coolbits, choose 
Modify, and change the value to 3. 
Coolbits will be ready to go once you 
reboot your system. 

To use Coolbits, right-click an empty 
part of your Desktop and click Prop- 
erties. Click Settings, Advanced, and then 



Q 



Can I overclock my new PCI 
Express video card? 



A Yes. Let's look at an example. 
Some of the newest NVIDIA- 
based video cards use the PCI-E 
version of NVIDlA's 6800GT chip. 
Out of the box, it starts out with a 
350MHz core clock frequency and 
1GHz memory clock frequency. You 
can use the NVIDIA Coolbits registry 
hack to overclock the card manually or 
automatically (see the "How do I install 
NVIDIA Coolbits?" sidebar to learn 
more about Coolbits). You should 
increase the memory frequency before 
changing the core speed. If you change 
both at the same time, you won't know 
what's causing system freezes. Over- 
clock the memory in small increments 
(10 to 20MHz at a time) to the highest 
setting possible without sacrificing sys- 
tem stability. Once you've maxed out 
the memory speed, do the same with 
the core. Keep raising the core frequen- 
cy until your system becomes unstable. 



click the tab that displays your video 
card's name. A window will pop up on 
the left-hand side of the dialog box. Click 
Clock Frequencies and then click the 
Allow Clock Frequency Adjustments 
checkbox in the right pane of the dialog 
box and restart your computer again. 

After you reboot, reopen the Display 
Properties dialog box. You'll see a side- 
bar on the Clock Frequencies panel and 
sliders for Core Frequency and Memory 
Clock Frequency. If you have a newer 
NVIDIA-based video card that incorpo- 
rates thermal monitoring, you can select 
an automatic adjustment feature that 
will test your video card at various over- 
clocked settings and choose the best 
one. Click Auto Detect and Apply 
Settings At Startup to enable the over- 
clocked settings the next time you 
reboot your system. ▲ 



You should be able to squeeze an extra 
125MHz to 150MHz out of both the 
core and memory before your system 
becomes unstable. 



Q 



My system became unstable after 
I finished overclocking it. How 
do I fix it? 



A If your system becomes unstable 
after increasing the FSB or multi- 
plier, there are several things you 
can do. First, lower the FSB or multi- 
plier until the system becomes stable 
again. If that doesn't work, you can 
increase the core voltage (vCore) of the 
CPU. This has two effects: It gives the 
CPU a higher current to work with, but 
it also increases the heat output of your 
system. You will need to remove this 
heat or you will literally burn up your 
system. Refer to the column "Chill 
Chat" (page 155) for tips on how to 
keep your system cool. CPU 

by David Miller 



CPU / PC Modder 133 



Get Your Juices Flowing 

Watercooling Kits, Compared & Contrasted 



It never fails to catch our attention. 
Instead of the hollow howl of over- 
zealous case fans when a PC first 
boots, there's just a gentle thrum. Instead 
of the typical overclocking headroom per- 
centage in the single digits, there are teens 
and twentysomethings. There's just some- 
thing about a watercooled system that 
makes us want to start tweaking. 

A watercooling kit pumps a liquid 
through a sealed block with a copper or alu- 
minum base attached to the CPU in lieu of 
a traditional heatsink. Water and other liq- 
uids convey heat better than air can, which 
is why it's so rare to find a car with an en- 
gine cooled by air instead of an antifreeze 
concoction. The pump pushes the heated 
liquid away from the CPU waterblock and 
through a radiator, where a fan or two helps 
the heat dissipate into the air. After a trip 
through the pump and a reservoir, which 
makes it easier to fill the system and trap 
any bubbles, the cooled liquid runs back to 
the waterblock once more. 

Some technologies can cool a comput- 
er better than watercooling, but none are 
as versatile or cost-effective. For example, 
phase-change units take a line from refrig- 
erators and freezers to chill chips very well 
(and make possible those astronomical 
benchmark scores in Futuremark's Hall of 
Fame, www.futuremark.com/communi 
ty/halloffame ). Unfortunately, they cost 
three to five times as much as a good 
watercooling kit. And so far, no phase- 
change kits cool anything but the CPU. 
Many watercooling kits come with 
waterblocks for the graphics card and 
motherboard northbridge (also known as 
an MCH [memory controller hub] or 
other names); these extra blocks are also 
sold separately. 

As sometimes happens, we couldn't get 
as much clarification on new processor 
socket compatibility as we would have liked 
by the time we finalized our purchasing for 
this issue. For example, we suspected that 



most waterblocks compatible with AMD's 
Sockets 754 and 940 should also fit 939-pin 
applications, but confirmation from the kit 
manufacturers was spotty. Also, there just 
weren't enough Socket T LGA775-compat- 
ible waterblocks on the market at purchas- 
ing time for a head-to-head like this one. 

In the end, we fell back on the still- 
popular 478-pin Pentium 4 platform. 
The long-running family of Netburst 
chips enjoys a good reputation for solid 
overclocking, which is one of the most 
compelling reasons to introduce any sort 
of liquid into a PC in the first place. 

Besides, rather than buying a new PCI 
Express video card and DDR2 memory for 
the upgrade to a 775-pin Pentium 4 and 
mainboard, many Intel users would rather 
stick with their current 478-pin PCs with 
AGP and DDR for a while. After all, PCI 
Express and DDR2 will undoubtedly offer 
real-world speed gains over AGP 8X and 
DDR in the future, but they haven't done 
this yet with current products. 

How We Tested 

We tested each kit with a 3GHz, 478- 
pin Pentium 4 with an 800MHz FSB. Our 
motherboard was an Epox EP-4PCA3+ 
with Intel's 875P/ICH5 "Canterwood" 
chipset. We also installed an ATI 
RADEON 9800 Pro 128MB graphics 
card, 1GB of OCZ Gold Edition PC4400 
DDR, and a Maxtor 7,200rpm 80GB hard 
drive with an 8MB cache. 

To heat up this CPU for our tempera- 
ture tests, we ran PCMark04 version 
1.2.0 with all of its tests enabled. We also 
ran 3DMark05 1.0.0 at 1024 x 768 x 32 
with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic 
filtering. We used the thermal compound 
that came with each kit, along with any 
fluids or additives. Distilled water made 
up the rest of our coolant. 

Differences in the design of each 
waterblock would have dictated how we 
could attach thermal probes to them, so 



instead, we took all the temperature read- 
ings we could with a Senfu inline gauge 
($39.99, www.highspeedpc.com ) placed 
just after the waterblock in each kit's flow 
circuit. This made the competition a little 
fairer and simpler. Because we had to 
resort to an alternate thermal probe occa- 
sionally, we compared the kits' cooling 
ability more by their temp changes be- 
tween idle and heavily used states than by 
the actual temperatures reported. 

Finally, we tested a stock Intel heatsink/ 
fan with an attached probe to give you 
some perspective on what watercooling 
brings to the table. Our rating scale for 
each kit's cooling ability and other criteria 
are from 1 to 10, with higher being better. 



Asetek Waterchill KT012A-L20 Kit 



Compatibility: Sockets 478 Intel; 462 

(A), 754, 939, 940 AMD; various 

RADEON, GeForce cards; Intel, 

AMD, SIS, VIA northbridges 

Cooling ability: 9 

Ease of setup: 2 

Looks: 8 

Price: $279.99 

Available at: www.frozencpu.com (kit 

model numbers may vary from Asetek's) 

This three-waterblock Waterchill kit has 
a lot going for it — namely compatibility 
with many northbridges and video cards in 
addition to microprocessors. Asetek also 
sells hard drive coolers for 3.5-inch and 
5.25-inch bays. This kit is well made, effi- 
cient, and attractive. On the other hand, it 
has several glaring drawbacks, too. 

The Waterchill kit comes with huge, 
transparent hoses with a 1/2-inch OD 
(outer diameter) and about a 3/8-inch ID 
(inner diameter), or 5/16-inch by our mea- 
surement. We really like the Waterchill's 
Antarctica CPU block design. A central 
hose blasts water at copper channels direct- 
ly above the processor die, while return 
hoses on either side make said channels the 



134 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 





Asetek's Waterchill isn't specifically made to fit PC cases, so 
prepare to mod and jerryrig it to fit your case. 



Cooler Master's Aquagate also comes with brackets for other CPUs 
and drive bay installation (not shown). 



easiest paths for the coolant. This efficien- 
cy, lumped in with the Asetek kit's big 
water capacity, helped us overclock our 
CPU higher than with any other kit. 

And now, let the griping commence. 
The Asetek kit is more a collection of parts 
than a system that is made to fit a comput- 
er case. Granted, those parts are top-quali- 
ty, but none of them have the screw pat- 
terns or dimensions to fit a drive bay or 
exhaust fan hole. Keep this in mind if what 
you really want is an easy bolt-in system. 

Asetek expects you to stick the pump to 
the case floor with suction cups, then 
mount the reservoir to it with a bracket or 
somewhere else in the case with Velcro. 
The radiator assembly's sheer size poses a 
problem, even if you're willing to modify 
your case to let the fan vent outward. If you 
don't want to cut your case, you'll have to 
rest the radiator on the case floor, in several 
drive bays, or outside the case entirely. 

Speaking of cutting, you'll need to slice 
the ends of the Asetek's hoses perfectly 
straight and square, or they'll leak. You'll 
also have to push them into the press-in 
couplings as far as you can — and then a 
bit more — or again, they'll leak. There are 
no clamps to tighten in this kit, so the 
only control you'll have over the system's 
watertightness is to cut straight and shove 
in hard. 

Do not install this Asetek kit in your 
PC before you've tested it for leaks awhile. 
Use a thick shunt wire (included) between 
your power supply's Pins 13 and 14 on 



the 20-pin harness to supply power with- 
out a connection to the motherboard. 
Asetek's manual will show you how. 

Finally, the Waterchill system takes a 
long time to purge, and all those bubbles 
make a lot of racket as they cause the 
pump to cavitate. Count on five or 10 
minutes of teeth-buzzing noise as you 
raise and lower hoses. When it all gets 
nice and quiet, the circuit is purged. 

Despite its faults, the Asetek proved to 
be the best cooler here. To make an ap- 
ples-to-apples comparison to the rest of 
the kits, we left out its VGA and north- 
bridge waterblocks in our trials. 

On a side note, don't worry about 
the drop in the overclocked 3DMark05 
scores. All kits lost some points here 
because we overclocked the CPUs and 
nothing else. Thus, we had to adjust the 
RAM's ratio to the CPU internal frequen- 
cy to keep things mathematically simple. 
The 3.6GHz/240MHz overclock using 
the Asetek kit corresponded to a 384MHz 
FSB, for instance, while the 3.5GHz we 
reached with the other watercooling kits 
dropped our FSB to 376MHz. 



Cooler Master Aquagate ALC-U01 



Compatibility: Sockets 478 Intel; 462, 

754, 939, 940 AMD 

Cooling ability: 7 

Ease of setup: 7 

Looks: 8 

Price: $199.95 

Available at: www.coolerguys.com 



Unlike Watergate, Whitewatergate, or 
Monicagate, Cooler Master's Aquagate is 
something you would like to see more of. 
With transparent hoses (about 3/8-inch 
OD and 1/4-inch ID) that show off its 
pretty blue coolant, the ALC-UOl's taste- 
ful silver case is easy on the eyes. It's not 
the coolest idler, but it does rein in tem- 
perature changes under load. 

Unlike the Asetek kit above, Cooler 
Master makes it just as easy to do an ex- 
ternal installation as an internal one. It has 
fairly thorough illustrated instructions, 
although we had to flip around in the book- 
let quite a bit to make sure we were using 
the right screws and electrical cables. Also, 
there were a few addenda here and there. 

The part we didn't like was trying to 
secure the waterblock and the backing 
plate at the same time. With hoses at- 
tached. With a temperature probe taped 
on. And with a layer of thermal goop 
helping the block slide all around as we 
worked. Do yourself a favor and attach 
the hoses after you mount the block. 

The rear connectors of the pump/radi- 
ator unit are the coolest. Push the plastic 
fittings into them, and they click to lock. 
Press their release buttons, and they pop 
the fittings back out. Neat! 

You can even knock out the LCD and 
mount it somewhere other than in the 
pump/radiator unit. The function but- 
tons let you adjust warning and shutdown 
temps, as well as fan speeds. That top fan 
setting is really obnoxious, though. We 



CPU / PC Modder 135 



only endured it as long as we needed to 
for trial purposes (we tested each cooling 
system at its top speed). 

The nozzle attachment for our coolant 
bottle was cracked, but it still helped us 
squeeze the liquid into the cooling unit's 
fill hole without too much of a mess. Like 
other kits, the Aquagate proved much 
faster than the Asetek at purging air bub- 
bles, thanks to the smaller inner diameter 
of the hoses. Also, the pump was much 
quieter during the purge cycle. 

However, the first time you turn the 
Aquagate on, all sorts of alarms will go off 
because its control unit realizes that there's 
not enough coolant in the system. Thirty 
seconds later, ours shut the whole PC 
down. That gave us a panic until we read 
that this behavior is by design. We added 
more coolant to the tank and restarted, 
and the beeping went away. 



EvercoolWC-101 



Compatibility: Sockets 370, 478 Intel; 

462 AMD 

Cooling ability: 7-8 (see text) 

Ease of setup: 8 

Looks: 2 

Price: $96.95 

Available at: www.buyextras.com 

The WC-101 from Evercool comes 
preassembled. Its pump/reservoir/radiator 
unit technically fits in a single 5.25-inch 
drive bay, although you'll need to leave 
space above and below it for airflow. At 
half to one-third of the cost of the other 



kits, the WC-101 offers quick installation 
with cooling ability that's consistently in 
the top half of this group's results. 

However, this kit puts the "ug" in 
"ugly." From its chintzy-looking faux 
chrome fascia to its easily tarnished cop- 
per waterblock, from its antichafe electri- 
cal cable wrapping to the big "SENSOR" 
tags on each thermal probe, the WC-101 
is not designed to visually impress any- 
one. The prettiest part — the body of the 
translucent drive bay unit — will be the 
one thing you never see. 

The Evercool's hoses are small, at only 
1/4-inch OD. This particular model's 
waterblock doesn't fit the current genera- 
tion of processors. The kit's radiator vents 
heated air into the case, not out of it. You 
fill the reservoir with an included plastic 
syringe, which takes some time. And there's 
no easy way to drain it once filled, so we 
really wish that the kit had come with some 
algae and corrosion inhibitor additives. 

The instruction leaflet has photos, but 
it's so spartan as to be frustrating. The trick- 
iest part of the installation, the waterblock 
retention assembly, gets four tiny pics that 
nevertheless leave out a great deal of detail. 

One thing we do like about the Ever- 
cool is the assistant fan on the finned 
waterblock, which probably helps such a 
small block dissipate heat in the same 
league as its bigger rivals. "We also like the 
water level gauge on the front of the fas- 
cia. Simply a calibrated slot window on 
the reservoir backlit by a blue LED, this 
gauge is easy to read and effective. 



The preassembled Evercool system 
didn't give us an easy way to add our 
inline water temperature gauge. The hose 
fittings were aluminum and plastic, and 
none we tried was in the mood to sepa- 
rate without damage. We tried using the 
Evercool's internal water temp sensor, 
but it seemed content to report 21 de- 
grees Celsius all the livelong day. 

In the end, we turned to our trusty 
Thermaltake Hardcano 12, taping one of 
its thermal probes to the reservoir with its 
tip well into the water. Although its re- 
ported temperatures were different than 
our Senfu gauge's, we felt that the more 
important measurements were the changes 
in temperature. 

Unfortunately, the reservoir comes 
after the radiator in this water circuit, so 
we wouldn't put much weight on our 
thermal figures for this kit. On the other 
hand, its overclocking scores are similar to 
the rest, so we know that it's cooling on 
par with the others. 

In sum, the WC-101 is a low-cost way 
to keep yesteryear's CPU in the game a 
little longer. 



Thermaltake Aquarius III External Liquid 
Cooling Kit 



Compatibility: Sockets 478, 775 Intel; 

462, 754, 939, 940 AMD 

Cooling ability: 6 

Ease of setup: 7 

Looks: 9 

Price: $219.95 

Available at: www.pctoyland.com 





Evercool's WC-101 hit every branch on its way down from the ugly 
tree, but it's effective, inexpensive, and easy to install. 



The Thermaltake Aquarius III looks terrific and comes with a sweet 
carry harness. Could cool better, though. 



136 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Temperatures 
W 



e took each watercooling system's temps with a Senfu inline temperature probe downstream of the final waterblock and upstream of the radiator, 
except as noted. We used the thermal compound included with each kit and set pump and fan speeds to maximum as applicable. ▲ 



Watercooling Kit Temperatures 





Asetek 
Waterchill 


Cooler Master 

Aquagate 

ALC-U01 


Evercool 
WC-101 


Thermaltake 
Aquarius III 


Zaiman 
Reserator 1 
(fanless) 


Stock Intel 
heatsink/fan 


Configuration 


internal/external 
(not made to fit 
PC dimensions) 


internal/external 


internal 


external 


external 


N/A 


Waterblocks Included 


CPU, GPU, and NB 
(only CPU tested) 


CPU 


CPU 


CPU 


CPU 


N/A 


Price 


$279.99 


$199 


$96.95 


$219.95 


$219.99 


N/A 


Stock 


Idle (degrees C) 


23.6 


27.1 


24.5* 


25.6 


23.8 


26** 


PCMark04 (degrees C) 


26.4 


28.4 


26.7* 


29.9 


26.9 

3.1 


36" 


PCMark04 (change, C) 


2.8 


1.3 


2.2 


4.3 


10 


3DMark05 (degrees C) 


26.4 


28.5 


27* 


30.9 


27.9 


37** 


3DMark05 (change, C) 


2.8 


1.4 


2.5 


5.3 


4.1 


11 


Overclocked 


Idle (degrees C) 


25.1 


26.4 


24.5* 


27.3 


25.8 


26.3 ** 


PCMark04 (degrees C) 


26.8 


29.9 


27* 


31.4 
4.1 


27.9 
2.1 


37** 


PCMark04 (change, C) 


1.7 


3.5 


2.5 


10.7 


3DMark05 (degrees C) 


26.9 


28.9 


27* 


31.4 


28.9 


38** 


3DMark05 (change, C) 


1.8 


2.5 


2.5 


4.1 


3.1 


11.7 



* Temperatures from a Thermaltake Hardcano 1 2 probe in the reservoir after the cooling radiator, which was unavoidable. 
** Temperatures from a Thermaltake Hardcano 12 probe on the side of the heatsink. 



The main attraction of this kit certain- 
ly stands out. Its external fan/pump/res- 
ervoir/radiator assembly comes in an 
absolutely fabulous blue and silver alu- 
minum case. We're talking chunky, beefy, 
finned aluminum with a gorgeous finish 
and a Thermaltake "X" logo bolted to the 
top. The unit has front chrome handles, 
separate CPU and water temperature dis- 
plays, and a fan speed knob. 

Cooler still is its tough nylon carry har- 
ness with padded shoulder strap (take 
that, Cooler Master!). You could tote the 
Thermaltake unit around, connected to 
your SFF box with hoses, and look like 
some sort of EMT. Or a bellhop, as the 
Aquarius comes with a refill bottle that 
looks like it once decanted complimenta- 
ry shampoo. 

Like its case and harness, the Thermal- 
take Al681's installation manual simply 
rocked. Although peppered with some 
Engrish here and there, the steps are clear. 
The photos are in color, and there are 
even multiple pics for the tricky parts. 

The kit's 5/16-inch OD, 1/4-inch ID 
hoses are translucent silicon and have in- 
ner springs running their entire lengths. 



Springs may prevent kinking and allow 
smaller hoses (and thus higher flow veloci- 
ties), but they just don't appeal to our eyes. 
The hose clamps are the springy squeezable 
kind, which work very well unless you step 
on them and ruin their shapes. Luckily for 
us, Thermaltake included not a couple, but 
10 extra clamps. 

One thing that bugged us was that the 
waterblock doesn't have any mechanical 
way to index its retaining bracket. Only 
friction holds it in place once the bracket is 
tightened down. We didn't want to over- 
tighten, of course, and yet we felt com- 
pelled to keep snugging down the retention 
nuts because of the waterblock's weight and 
the sideloading force of its hoses. In a tower 
case, we would have to balance prudent 
bracket pressures against the chance of the 
block twisting or sliding around. 

Oddly, considering its pedigree, the 
Aquarius Ill's coolant heated up more 
than the other kits'. The Evercool makes 
do with a similarly small volume of liq- 
uid, but then that kit also has fins and a 
fan on its waterblock. We're not sure 
where the fault lies, whether in capacity, 
block design, or radiator characteristics. 



Zaiman Reserator 1 



Compatibility: Sockets 478 Intel; 462, 

754, 939, 940 AMD 

Cooling ability: 8 

Ease of setup: 9 

Looks: 9 

Price: $219.99 

Available at: www.zipzoomfly.com 

The Reserator is a combo reservoir and 
radiator from Zaiman. Its shtick is that, 
like some other Zaiman products, its 
finned extruded aluminum housing is so 
good at heat dispersion, it doesn't need 
any fans. It does have an internal pump, 
though. All we know is that its assembly 
made us feel like we were crafting a 
doomsday device in a James Bond movie. 

The Reserator is 6 inches in diameter 
and nearly 2 feet tall, so it's definitely an 
external watercooler only. That is, unless 
you're looking for a blue silo for your 
barnyard PC mod. The hoses are pretty 
blue silicon, Vi-inch OD and 5/16-inch 
ID. All the hardware is included to adapt 
the Reserator to the CPU sockets listed 
above. There's an optional VGA cooler, 
too, but our kit didn't have it. 



CPU / PC Modder 137 



Overclockability 



ost of our kits cooled the CPU only, so that's where we focused our overclocking efforts. We used BIOS settings to find stable maximum CPU 
I internal frequencies at stock voltage levels. We kept the AGP and PCI bus frequencies locked. Our PCMark04 1 .2.0 run included all tests in the 
System, CPU, Memory, Graphics, and HDD categories. We ran 3DMark05 1.0.0 at 1,024 x 768 with 4XAA and 8XAF. Drops in overclocked 3DMark05 
scores reflect the lower FSB speeds used to keep the RAM in a ratio with the CPU frequency, yet near 400MHz. ▲ 



Watercooling Kit Overclockability 




Asetek 
Waterchill * 


Cooler Master 
Aquagate ALC-U01 


Evercool 
WC-101 


Thermaltake 
Aquarius III 


Zalman 
Reserator 1 


Stock Intel 
heatsink/fan 


Stock 


CPU frequency 

(MHz; multiplier x internal) 


3000(15x200) 


3000(15x200) 


3000(15x200) 


3000(15x200) 


3000(15x200) 


3000(15x200) 


PCMark04 score 


4658 


4599 


4684 


4680 


4695 


4743 


3DMark05 score 


1461 


1465 


1458 


1458 


1460 


1461 


Overclocked 


CPU frequency 

(MHz; multiplier x internal) 


3600(15x240) 


3525(15x235) 


3525(15x235) 


3525(15x235) 


3525(15x235) 


3450(15x230) 


CPU improvement 


22.50% 


17.30% 


17.30% 


17.30% 


17.30% 


15.00% 


PCMark04 score 


5479 


5405 


5320 


5342 


5327 


5268 


PCMark04 improvement 


17.6% 


17.5% 


13.6% 


14.1% 


13.5% 


11% 


3DMark05 score 


1451 


1441 


1451 


1443 


1436 


1433 


3DMark05 improvement 


-0.7% 


-1.6% 


-0.5% 


-1% 


-1 .6% 


-1.9% 


* Only CPU block tested for comparison purposes. 



Much of the Reserator's initial cooling 
power comes from sheer capacity. It holds 
about a gallon when filled to the recom- 
mended level. This Hoover Dam approach 
works, too. Temps stayed as low as or 
lower than the other kits'. On the other 
hand, we found that once the large body of 
water in the tank heated up, it took longer 
to cool back down than other kits' reser- 
voirs. Also, it has neither temperature dis- 
play nor pump speed control. 

The thematically sound cylindrical 
waterblock has a copper base with gold plat- 
ing to inhibit corrosion. In fact, Zalman 
stands alone in this group in its repeated 
assurance that it's OK to use ordinary tap 
water in its watercooling kit. That block 




The colossal Reserator 1 from Zalman, home of 
various fanless cooling products with insane 
numbers of little brackets. 



weighs a pound, not including the mass of 
the hoses and water, so don't plan on mov- 
ing your PC around when this waterblock is 
attached. It mounts to the plastic bracket 
surrounding the P4's socket, so we didn't 
have to remove that bracket from our board 
as we did with other kits. 

This kit's layout is really straightfor- 
ward, although it's hard to tighten the 
hose fittings on the Reserator itself. 
They're nestled right up under the fins, 
which have rough edges. The only other 
warm spot in the kiddie pool was how big 
the Reserator seems, especially next to a 
PC. Fortunately, it doesn't take up much 
floor space. 

Anyway, Zalman wasn't kidding about 
this thing's silence. After a few seconds of 
cavitation when we first fired up the water 
pump, the Reserator's operating noise 
went away. Well, you can hear a gentle 
hum if you lean in closely. Still, several 
times we forgot to turn off its separate 
power switch when we shut down our PC 
because it was just too quiet. This is why 
Zalman threw in an inline flow indicator, 
which has an orange bobber that dances 
as the water rushes by. 

Few PC accessories make such a fash- 
ion statement as Zalman's Reserator 1. 
And you won't have to sacrifice function 
for form's sake. 



Block That Chip 

Call it good sink design. We found that 
when overclocking at the processor's normal 
voltage level, Intel's stock heatsink and fan 
could take the processor almost to the same 
internal frequency level as the waterblocks. 
Of course, once you start raising voltage set- 
tings for more serious OCing, you will wel- 
come a waterblock's additional cooling 
power. Also, notice that the stock heatsink's 
temperature changes were three to four 
times the temp spreads of the waterblocks. 

With that said, we urge you not to give 
our waterblock scores more importance 
than they're worth. A variance of a degree or 
two should not be the basis of your decision 
to buy one water kit over another. "We'd 
take ease of installation and maintenance 
any day. And although we might not worry 
about how the internal parts looked, we 
wouldn't buy a kit with tacky external parts. 

At the end of the day, the Zalman Res- 
erator gets our nod, followed by the Cooler 
Master. Then again, we'd love to own the 
Thermaltake, but only if we added phatter 
cooling skillz with a different waterblock, a 
supplemental radiator/fan, or the extra ca- 
pacity of an additional reservoir. Hmm, 
there's an idea. . . . CPU 

by Marty Sems 



138 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Airflow Control 

Fan Controllers Reviews & Tips 



Most computer users 
employ the princi- 
ples of forced air to 
cool their CPUs and cases. For 
those users, a few simple fans are 
all that are needed to create a 
basic cooling system. But a seri- 
ous user can improve the perfor- 
mance of his fans by investing in 
a fan controller. 

You've likely seen numerous 
fan controllers on your favorite 
retail sites, and you've probably 
passed them up because you didn't see the 
point of installing one. The fact is that a 
good fan controller can reduce fan noise 
and power requirements. 

But first, you have to find a fan con- 
troller worth its price. The market is 
fraught with chintzy controllers using 
low-cost electronics and shoddy construc- 
tion materials. In the following reviews, 
we'll help you find a controller worthy of 
your cutting-edge PC. 



AeroCool GateWatch 



Approximate street price: $55 
Available at: 
www.xoxide.com 
www.newegg.com 

If you're tired of typical fan controllers, 
you will be blown away by the looks of 
the AeroCool GateWatch. This oversized 
controller looks completely different from 
the other controllers we tested; however, 
it doesn't offer as many special features as 
we'd hoped. 

When you open the GateWatch's box, 
you'll immediately see a full-color manual 
that's nearly 20 pages long and filled with 
useful installation and configuration infor- 
mation. Underneath, you'll find the con- 
troller neatly packaged in plenty of foam. 

The GateWatch is twice the size of a 
typical fan controller, meaning it devours 
two 5.25-inch drive bays instead of the 




usual one. If you have a system that's 
already crammed with components, this 
space requirement is obviously a negative, 
but if you have the room, you'll find that 
the installation is pretty easy. 

AeroCool provides everything you need 
to install and set it up, including four fan 
wires, four temperature sensors (plus ther- 
mal tape for securing those sensors), and an 
audio connector that you can mount to a 
case expansion slot. It also includes the 
screws you need to secure the controller 
and a battery that lets the device retain your 
settings when you kill your PC's power. 

Looks-wise, the GateWatch is a hands- 
down winner. The huge, round LCD 
offers up plenty of information, and it's 
easy to change the background color from 
red to violet to blue, depending on your 
desired color scheme. 

Unfortunately, the GateWatch isn't so 
great for altering fan speeds. To access the 
manual fan speed control, you have to 
press the Set button three times. The first 
two button presses bypass the controls for 
setting the hour and minute on the clock. 
Because most users will set their clock only 
once, this is a ridiculous design flaw. 

And though the GateWatch's front panel 
design is at first very impressive, AeroCool 
definitely could've used this real estate more 
wisely. For example, the company included 
a large button that lets you immediately 
access statistics for each individual fan, and 



this seems like overkill. On the 
other hand, we did like the fact 
that the GateWatch comes with 
an audio connector that plugs into 
an audio port on your PC. You 
can use the large volume control 
knob on the GateWatch to adjust 
your speakers. 

Our verdict on the Gate- 
Watch is divided. We love the 
overall look and feel that Aero- 
Cool gave to this controller. It's 
stylish and will add a wow factor 
to any enthusiast's system. But while the 
GateWatch has plenty of style, it's hard 
not to be disappointed by its lack of sub- 
stance in usable features. 

Sure, the dedicated buttons make for 
simple operation and the large graphics are 
eye-catching at first, but we doubt you'll 
long be entranced by a dinosaur animation 
incessantly wagging its tail as you modify 
your CPU fan settings. There are better 
ways to blow your technology budget. 



CoolerMaster Aerogate 3 



Approximate street price: $50 
Available at: 
www.xoxide.com 
www.case-mod.com 

We spent more cash on our next fan 
controller, the Aerogate 3, and the differ- 
ence in quality was immediately apparent. 
The controller came neatly packaged, 
wrapped in plastic and tucked securely 
into a lot of protective foam. 

In the box, you'll find the controller, 
four fan extension cables, four tempera- 
ture sensors, a power cable, and mounting 
screws. The controller has an aluminum 
base and comes with a stylish, clear plastic 
face that we found very appealing. Better 
yet, the white backlight LCD and round- 
ed buttons on either side conjure the feel- 
ing that you're installing a nice car stereo 
into your computer's 5.25-inch drive bay. 



CPU / PC Modder 139 




Enermax Ultimate Controller 




The controller provides plenty of fan 
power, as it lets you direct a maximum of 
18W to each of the four fan channels. 
Once you're up and running, the Aerogate 
3 cycles through eight numbers denoting 
temperature and fan speeds. If you neglect 
to connect one of the fan or temperature 
wires, the Aerogate displays zeros. 

This product comes with a complete 
manual to help you configure the Aerogate 
to your preferences. Unfortunately, only six 
pages are in English, and the instructions 
offer just a brief overview of the device's 
functions. As it turns out, that's OK, 
because if you've used a car stereo, you 
won't have any trouble using the Aerogate. 

It's very easy to change this controller's 
preprogrammed settings. To adjust fan 
speeds, use the device's logical button 
setup to cycle to the number of the fan 
you want, then use the Up and Down 
keys to choose an appropriate rpm set- 
ting. Using 80mm fans, you'll be able to 
make the rpm setting as low as 800rpm, 
and as high as 2,000rpm. 

You won't have any problems changing 
alarm threshold levels, either. As with the 
fan speed settings, you can cycle to the 
appropriate fan and then use the Up and 
Down keys to select a temperature that 
you think is safe for your system. If you 
don't want to fiddle with the default 
Celsius temperatures, just press the dedi- 
cated temperature button to switch to 
Fahrenheit. As with most temperature 
sensors of this nature, you won't be able 
to monitor heat levels if they drop lower 
than degrees Celsius. 

The Aerogate 3 doesn't come loaded 
with a lot of extra features or hardware, but 
unlike some of the other controllers we 



reviewed, it's well-made and does its job 
without frustrating glitches and hang-ups. 
Although this CoolerMaster product costs a 
third more than most entry-level controllers, 
we think your money will be well spent. 



Enermax Ultimate Controller (UC-A8FATR4) 



Approximate street price: $36 
Available at: 
www.zipzoomfly.com 
www.monarchcomputer.com 

Enermax makes its share of fans, so 
it's only natural that the company also 
makes several popular fan controllers. 
We tested the so-called Ultimate Con- 
troller to see if this product lived up to 
its lofty-minded moniker. 

Like most, this controller requires that 
you install it into an empty 5.25-inch drive 
bay. Enermax was nice enough to include 
hardware that lets you mount a hard drive 
behind the controller, thus utilizing space 
that would otherwise go to waste. 

This controller is made mostly from 
aluminum. It's lightweight but still tough 
enough to withstand a bit of abuse. The 
Ultimate Controller is equipped with a 
center-mounted monochrome LCD and 
four knobs to let you independently con- 
trol four fans, with up to 10 watts re- 
served for each fan. 

The controller contains blue and green 
LEDs that sit just behind each of the fan 
speed knobs. These LEDs get brighter as 
you increase fan speed and darker as you 
reduce rpms, which adds some aesthetic 
appeal and also lets you gauge the fan speed 
at a glance. The LCD glows blue or green: 
blue when it's displaying information from 
fans 1 and 2 and green for fans 3 and 4. 



On the front of the controller, there is 
a switch that lets you toggle between 
Celsius and Fahrenheit and also a switch 
that sets the overheat alarm setting, letting 
you choose from Low (45 degrees C), 
Medium (55 degrees C), and High (65 
degrees C). You can also choose either 
l,000rpm or 2,000rpm for the low-rpm 
alarm, although you'll have to adjust this 
via a jumper on the back side. 

Enermax includes a thick, 50-page 
manual with this product. However, only 
seven of those pages are written in En- 
glish, and it's poorly translated English, 
too. For the most part, the manual gets its 
message across, but we were a little peeved 
to see that misspellings extended even to 
the front panel inserts, where the Display 
button is marked as "Dispaly." 

As with so many fan speed controls, the 
ones on the Ultimate Controller were 
rather ham-handed, so we found it very dif- 
ficult to tweak our settings with any degree 
of precision. What's more, when we turned 
up fan 3 to its highest speed, the entire dis- 
play began to flicker, and we didn't find a 
way to resolve this problem. Those short- 
comings alone were serious turnoffs, bring- 
ing to mind all of the cheapo controllers 
we've used in the past. You can get more 
for your fan controller money. 



Silverstone Eudemon 



Approximate street price: $36 
Available at: 
www.directron.com 
www.xoxide.com 

Compared to the Enermax product, 
Silverstone's Eudemon takes a very dif- 
ferent approach to fan and temperature 



140 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 





control. Instead of letting users adjust a 
lot of various settings to their liking, the 
Eudemon controller makes many of its 
adjustments automatically. 

Cautious perfectionists won't be imme- 
diately impressed with this Silverstone unit. 
The front of the Eudemon's box proclaims 
that this product contains "Sophisticated 
electrinical (sic) technology." There's only 
one sheet of basic instructions to help you 
get started, and this wasn't enough to 
answer all of our questions. 

Things get a little better once you have 
a close look at the Eudemon, which has a 
black front panel that's classy enough to 
fit into most case color schemes. We were 
a little perplexed by the round, silvery 
vents on either side of the display because 
this design feature makes it look as if 
you've installed an FM radio in your 
5.25-inch drive bay. 

The LCD is definitely one of this pro- 
duct's strengths. It produces a bright blue 
glow that's sure to warm any modder's 
heart, and the on-screen numbers, though 
small, are crisp and easy to read. After you 
make the proper motherboard connec- 
tion, you can use the screen to monitor 
hard drive activity, in addition to the reg- 
ular range of system statistics. 

The Eudemon will display tempera- 
tures from to 100 degrees C or 32 to 
212 degrees Fahrenheit. Fans remain off 
until temperatures reach 14 C, and at 
this point, the fans go into their lowest 
speed. Those speeds increase as tempera- 
tures rise, and once the sensor displays 
44 C, the fans automatically kick into 
their highest gear. 

The Mode button simply cycles 
through the fan speeds and temperature 



readings for the CPU, system, and hard 
drive sensors. The Set button toggles the 
alarm clock function. With some ex- 
perimentation (and zero help from the 
instruction sheet), we found that by press- 
ing these buttons in various sequences, we 
could adjust date and time, as well as the 
high temperature alarm threshold and 
change the temperature readout from 
Celsius to Fahrenheit. 

However, we didn't find any manual 
fan speed controls whatsoever. That's 
because the Eudemon automatically 
chooses one of six fan speed levels 
depending on the heat levels it detects 
with its sensors. When a component gets 
too hot, you'll see a fan's status go from 
Lo to Hi, and you'll see the rotating fan 
graphic accordingly begin to spin faster. 

The Eudemon isn't the best fan con- 
troller we've used. It features little in the 
way of manual controls, connects to only 
three fans, comes with incomplete in- 
structions, and has just so-so construction 
quality. Lacking the detailed controls, this 
controller is inappropriate for hardcore 
enthusiasts. However, if you're looking 
for hands-free and efficient fan control, 
this is an affordable option. 



VL System L.I.S. 2 Indicator Premium 



Approximate street price: $100 
Available at: 
www.xoxide.com 

The VL System L.I.S. Indicator is much 
more than a four-channel fan controller. 
It's a PC information center that offers 
heaps of features to help you configure and 
control various system functions, and it 
adds serious glitz to any machine, too. 



The L.I.S. 2 consists of a simple blue 
display with a black frame and a thick, 
clear plastic cover. There are no buttons 
on the front of the L.I.S. 2 because all of 
its controls are driven by software. To 
make that software work, you connect the 
controller to either an external USB port 
or internal USB header and then install 
the driver and load the control software — 
if you're lucky. We had to manually load 
the driver and tweak the software a bit to 
make the product work. 

While you're fiddling around with the 
control application, your controller will 
spring to life, making sure your fans are 
spinning while simultaneously displaying 
various bits of information about your sys- 
tem, from the OS type to the exact CPU 
you're using. If you're like us, you'll proba- 
bly have plenty of time to stare at all that 
information, because we struggled to make 
the software perform even basic tasks. 

When you load the software, you'll 
see a Winamp-ish window launch and 
begin to display system information. You 
can minimize this window in the system 
tray and right-click it to access menu 
options, which is where things become 
more difficult. The L.I.S. 2's GUI isn't 
impossible to navigate, but it's definitely 
obtuse and frustrating, and we had to do 
more than our share of digging just to 
alter fan speeds. 

Once you work your way through 
these problems, you'll see that you can 
program the device to display the time, 
date, fan speed, hard drive usage, and 
more. The L.I.S. 2 can alert you to new 
email messages, sound an alarm for calen- 
dar events, and display customized sym- 
bols you create, just for starters. Plus, you 



CPU / PC Modder 141 



can change the appearance of 
the desktop display by installing 
new skins. 

You'll have to do some exper- 
imentation to figure out all of 
these features because the poorly 
translated manual is of little 
help. Lacking solid documenta- 
tion, and due to the sheer num- 
ber of features included with this 
device, it will probably take you 
hours, if not days, to finish the 
configuration process. 

The L.I.S. 2 isn't a perfect fan 
controller, but it definitely offers 
a lot of capabilities for the price. 
We recommend it for enthusi- 
asts who want a highly customiz- 
able fan controller that comes 
with oodles of extra features. 

Controller Installation 

Picking a fan controller is 
the hard part. Installing your 
new product is typically easier, 
but there are a few tips you 
can use to make the process go 
more smoothly. 

When you settle down to 
begin the installation, be sure 
you have a Phillips screwdriver 
and be prepared to spend some 
time organizing the inside of 
your case. Rushing a fan con- 
troller installation will result in a 
serious mess. 

Start by turning off your 
computer. Attempting to con- 
nect or disconnect fans while the 
power is on can cause cata- 
strophic damage to sensitive cir- 
cuitry. With your computer off, 
open the case and find an appro- 
priate location for your con- 
troller. As you peruse your 
options, remember that the rear 
of your controller will spit at 
least four or five sets of wires, 
and possibly as many as 10, into 
your case. If you mount your 
controller in the very top drive 
bay, it's harder to keep those 
wires neat, and some fan or tem- 
perature sensor wires might not 




Connect appropriate fan wires to their headers on the back of the 
controller. The headers should be clearly labeled by words and 
numbers on the printed circuit board. 




Use zip ties or other means of cable management to keep your 
temperature and fan wires neat, otherwise they'll create a horrendous 
mess inside your case. 




The space behind most fan controllers is empty. With the correct 
hardware you can make use of that space by mounting a hard drive 
at the rear of the controller. 



even be long enough to reach 
their intended targets. 

Connect the fan and sensor 
wires to the controller's headers. 
Most controller manufacturers 
make this job easy by labeling 
each header on the printed cir- 
cuit board, but you can double- 
check your connections using 
the manual. Verify that you con- 
nect the Fan 1 wire to the Fan 1 
header, and so forth. Otherwise, 
you'll have no idea which but- 
tons control which fans. 

Secure the controller to a 
drive bay using the included 
screws. Connect the numbered 
fan wires to the appropriate fans 
and place your temperature sen- 
sors wherever you prefer — just 
be sure to use thin thermal tape 
to secure the sensor, and never 
place a sensor directly on a 
CPU's die. Use zip ties or cable 
clamps to secure dangling wires 
out of the way. 

Make sure all vital fans are 
up to speed so that none of 
your components overheats. 
Start your computer and cycle 
through your controller's set- 
tings, and be sure to set overheat 
alarms. Check to make sure all 
of your temperature sensors are 
still where you want them and 
close up your case. 

Last Blast 

A fan controller is an inex- 
pensive way to improve overall 
system cooling and help combat 
excess noise. Exasperatingly low 
product quality is the biggest 
headache that most users expe- 
rience with fan controllers, so 
take the time to find a depend- 
able controller that suits all of 
your needs. Even if the con- 
troller you buy costs more and 
takes awhile to install, you and 
your fans will be much happier 
in the long run. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



142 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Cooun' Down That GPU 

Third- Party Heatsinks & Waterblocks 



Gamers know that the graphics 
card is key. If you're looking for 
faster, better, and prettier when 
it comes to game performance, you're 
going to rely heavily on your video 
adapter's capabilities. 

Most 3D cards are set so that their 
GPU (graphics processing unit, according 
to NVIDIA) or VPU (video processing 
unit, according to ATI) cores and 
onboard memory modules run at fre- 
quencies well shy of their maximum 
potential. This is so that no matter how 
warm a card gets in a normal PC during 
reasonable usage, it won't become unsta- 
ble and produce graphical errors, called 
artifacts, and black polygons, called tear- 
ing. The sunny side of this convention is 
that you can overclock most cards' core 
and RAM clocks to get slightly higher 
frame rates and benchmark scores. 

If you're curious about your 3D card's 
overclocking potential, you may want to 
upgrade its stock heatsink and fan to 
something with a little more cooling 
power. There are plenty of aftermarket 
heatsinks to consider, as well as water- 
blocks you can use if you're running a liq- 
uid-cooled rig. 

It's a good idea to cool your card's 
RAM, while you're at it. The usual 
approach is to buy four to eight small 
heatsinks of the right size and shape, such 
as squares or rectangles, to fit your card's 
memory. These generally come with 
double-sided thermal tape for easy attach- 
ment to the RAM. 

Some waterblocks and heatsinks cover 
the memory, as well as the GPU/VPU, 
but these products make it crucial for you 
to verify beforehand that the sink or block 
will fit your specific brand and model of 
card. Manufacturers vary their cards' lay- 
outs and might place capacitors or other 



components in areas that would touch an 
all-in-one heatsink or waterblock, creating 
a short-circuit hazard. Try to find an 
online photo of a cooler's contact area 
and mounting bolt pattern before you 
buy to minimize the chances you'll have 
to send the block or sink back. 

Third-party heatsinks and waterblocks 
that fit the latest and greatest GPUs, such 
as RADEON X800s and GeForce 6800s, 
were just beginning to appear at purchas- 
ing time. Therefore, we focused on prod- 
ucts for modders looking to get a little 
more life out of their still formidable 
AGP 8X hardware. After all, Half-Life 2 
is much more forgiving of last-gen cards 
than Doom 3. 

How We Tested 

Heatsinks and waterblocks vary in 
material, thickness, and the flow charac- 
teristics of the path of the cooling agent, 
whether air or liquid. We wanted to see 
for ourselves how our handful of sam- 
ples stacked up. 

We cleaned off old thermal transfer 
material from each card's GPU/VPU and 
RAM chips with acetone. Next, we applied 
Arctic Silver 5 ($8; www.arcticsilver.com ) 
to put all coolers on equal footing. 

Our test PC had an Athlon 64 2800+, 
1GB of OCZ PC4400 DDR, an Epox 
EP-8HDA3+ mainboard with an AGP 
8X bus, and Windows XP Pro SP2. Our 
Lian-Li PC-61 case had two filtered 
80mm lower front intake fans, an 80mm 
upper rear exhaust fan below the power 
supply, and an 80mm top blowhole 
exhaust fan. The Antec True430 power 
supply added a lower intake blower and a 
rear exhaust fan. 

Our water pump and radiator for the 
waterblock tests were from an Asetek 
"Waterchill kit. We turned the Asetek set 



up to the maximum, 12V setting for the 
most efficient cooling. 

We tested each card's stock and over- 
clocked configurations, checking the 
peak temperatures along the way with 
one of Thermaltake Hardcano 12's ther- 
mal probes ($62; www. thermaltake 
.com ). We attached the probe with 
thermal tape to the base of each cooler, 
as close as we could get it to the 
GPU/VPU without being in the path of 
a fan's direct airflow. We overclocked 
the NVIDIA cards with the CoolBits 
registry hack and the ATI models with 
ATITool 0.0.22, backing off at any sign 
of graphical errors or hangs. All OC 
results were at stock voltage; most cards 
can overclock further with reasonable 
voltage increases. 

For our benchmarking tests, we ran 
3DMark03 version 3.5 instead of 3D- 
Mark05 for broader compatibility with 
all of the video cards we used. We 
enabled 4X antialiasing and 8X anti- 
sotropic filtering on the cards that sup- 
ported these settings. 

Our results are divided into three 
charts, according to the cards we used 
for testing. Keep in mind that most 
coolers are compatible with other brands 
and models of cards, as well. 




Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 3 



$30.99 

Tested on: Gainward GeForce 5900 XT 

www.frozencpu.com 

This GPU/RAM heatsink and fan 
combo takes up a second expansion slot, 
but it vents hot air outside the case 
through a PCI bracket. The NV Silencer 
3's simple, copper-colored plate also 
touches the RAM on the front of the 



CPU / PC Modder 143 



card. If your 3D adapter has memory on 
its back side as well, keep shopping for 
heatsinks for those. 

The main trouble we had in fitting our 
NV Silencer 3 to our Gainward 5900 XT 
card was the presence of a few small, but 
tall, capacitors between the RAM mod- 
ules. Rather than turn these into spark 
plugs, we cut thin strips of electrical tape 
to cover them. 

In any event, all this effort was for 
naught. The reason why we have provid- 
ed no performance specs for this cooler 
is that our graphics card went insane 
soon after the installation. The capaci- 
tors later proved to have poked through 
the electrical tape when we tightened 
down the NV Silencer. Whether it was 
these components touching the RAM 
sinks or the amperage draw of the 12V 
fan — the 5900 XT's integrated fan con- 
nector didn't work afterward — the card 
now blue screens within a minute, even 
with rerouted fan power. 

If you buy this cooler, we suggest 
Dremeling out relief channels for any 
capacitors that may touch any part of 
the heatsink. And get an adapter cable 
to tie the fan directly into the main 
power harness, not the card's fan power 
circuit. Arctic Cooling offers a six-year 
warranty on the Silencer 3. Somehow 
we doubt that it extends to the 3D card 
in question. 




Innovatek Cool-Matic FX Rev. 1.0 



$99.99 

Tested on: ASUS GeForce 5900 

www.highspeedpc.com 



and/or the coastline of Iceland. It has 
two-piece, 90-degree fittings that swivel 
and don't leak. Oh yeah. 

The fit and finish of this $100 
waterblock was very nice, although 
avenues of milling are visible between the 
heatsink portions of the underside. Ah, 
well, they don't show. Also, all the attach- 
ing hardware is plastic. At least you can 




Now, here's a low-profde waterblock 
that's pretty close to gorgeous. It looks 
like a water pump from an old V-8, 



rule out any possibility of short circuits 
due to metallic throughbolts. 

The site on which we found this 
Innovatek waterblock claims, "Gain- 
ward Europe ships Cool-Matics stock on 
FX Cards!" Cool, we thought. We 
should have absolutely no problem with 
our Gainward GeForce FX 5900 XT, as 
the Cool-Matic is "made to the manu- 
facturer specs of NVIDIA 5900FX/ 
5950FX." Later, as we had card and 
waterblock in hand and realized that 
never the twain should meet, we found 
this disclaimer on the same Web page: 
"Gainward may have a different design 
for their part and is mentioned on our 
site simply as reference." 

Anyway, as we couldn't find an online 
photo of the underside of this Cool-Matic 
block before we bought it, we've included 
one here. If your FX 5900 card doesn't 
have a diagonal RAM layout to match, 
buy a different waterblock. 

We scrounged up an ASUS V9950 
TVD GeForce FX 5900 128MB with 
the proper memory layout and set to 
work. However, the card took a nose- 
dive in 3DMark03 scores with the 
slightest clock tweak. Both the GPU and 
the memory could overclock quite well, 
but there seemed no point to it as the 
card would throttle itself down to about 
25% performance. 



Temperature-wise, Innovatek's Cool- 
Matic FX proved to be a prince of a 
waterblock. And it should, at this price. 
Once we got past the fitment issues, the 
Innovatek took off 16 degrees when idle 
and 21 degrees under load at stock clock 
speeds. It's definitely not the waterblock's 
fault that this particular ASUS card was 
so overclockaphobic. 



Logisys 3D Edge Fan Blue LED Kit 



$24.50 

Tested on: Gainward GeForce 5900 XT 

www.frozencpu.com 

Edge fans are brackets with fans on 
them. They're meant to plug into an 
expansion slot next to your video adapter. 
They'll move air over your existing 
GPU/VPU heatsink, as well as over your 
card's front and back RAM chips. Best of 
all, they'll transfer over to nearly any card 
you buy in the future, as long as there's 
room in the computer case. 

The beauty of this Logisys kit is its 
flexibility. You can configure it in a num- 
ber of ways to cool the video adapter, 
CPU, northbridge, and RAM. The best 
setup will depend upon your system's 
layout, of course, but it will be easy for 
you to experiment. Best of all, you won't 
have to risk your card by swapping 
heatsinks, nor will you have to clean off 
and reapply thermal grease. The draw- 
back to an edge fan, besides the obvious 
one of absorbing a PCI slot or two, is 
that it will block your view of that purty 
video card in a windowed case. 

Everything fit very well together on 
our kit, although ours buzzed a little after 
it was installed. There's not enough grip 
in the bracket's metal feet to grab the 
PCI slot below, so the only real mount- 
ing point for the 3D Edge Fan is the sin- 
gle screw on the top of the backplane 
bracket. A dummy circuit board insert at 
the bottom of the bracket would have let 
the kit use the PCI slot as a secondary 
anchor to cut down on vibration noise. 

The 3D Edge Fan kept our stock 
GPU heatsink a few degrees cooler in our 
tests, especially under duress. However, it 
didn't help the card overclock much 
higher — not even the RAM. 



144 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




PolarFLO TT Series Universal VGA Water Block 



$45.99 

Tested on: Gainward GeForce 5900 XT 

www.polarflo.com 

PolarFLO has been making a name for 
itself lately with waterblocks that fit 
Intel's LGA775 Pentium 4. In this article, 
we're more concerned with its Universal 
VGA waterblock, which is available in 
several colors and barb sizes. 

We chose a black two-tone version 
with Vi-inch fittings. Those were the kind 
of fittings we prefer, by the way: leak- 
resistant and long enough for a worm 
clamp. Hoses don't come back off of 
those barbs very easily, though, so plan on 
splitting them. 

The PolarFLO's mounting flange 
swivels freely when loose, so you can rotate 
the cooler to alleviate kinks in your hoses 
before you lock it down. The company 
also says that the PolarFLO's copper base is 
replaceable, so you can continue to use the 
cooler on other cards in the future. This 
forward-looking feature also limits the 
PolarFLO's potential a bit. Its universal 
nature keeps it from touching the RAM, 
and without a stock heatsink and fan, there 
is no longer a mechanism on the card to 
blow air across the RAM sinks. Ironically, 
this didn't seem to hurt the RAM's over- 
clockability in our tests, but you may want 




an appropriate side panel or edge fan to 
supplement your own waterblock. 

Temps stayed nice and low throughout 
our benchmarks, but our 5900 XT card 
didn't feel like clocking much higher 
using the PolarFLO. Any OCing is inher- 
ently circumscribed by the abilities of 
each individual graphics card, but we 
had hoped for more than 21 3DMark03 
points for our $46. 




Asetek Waterchill VGA Cooler 



$44.99 

Tested on: ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 

www.frozencpu.com 

The nice part about the Asetek block, 
beside its side couplings, is that its body is 
a solid hunk of transparent plastic mount- 
ed on a thick copper slab. If there are any 
air bubbles creating a hot spot in your 
Asetek setup, you'll know about it. 

With its huge 3/8-inch inner diameter 
tubes and the full 12V power of its corre- 
sponding Asetek pump coursing through 
it, this cooler barely changed its tempera- 
ture under heavy loads. As with other 
GPU/VPU waterblocks that don't cover 
the RAM, memory cooling may suffer 
with this block. Pair it with sinks and a 
properly positioned fan for the RAM, and 
you will be in overclocking business. 

On the con list, the Asetek has our 
least favorite type of fittings, the kind into 
which you simply shove a hose as far as it 
will go. If the hose is not in far enough, 
has anything but an absolutely flush cut 
on the end, or has too much side pressure 
on it, you'll fight leaks all day. 



Spire CoolForce CF201-NEB 



$19 

Tested on: ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 

www.frozencpu.com 



Some users don't mind a cooler that 
takes up two expansion slots in a PC, but 
Homey don't play that in an SFF box or 
some mods. The answer is a low-profile 
copper sink, such as this one from Spire. 
We're not sure if we'd recommend it per 
se, but it's an example of the breed. 

Our CoolForce had red and orange 
LEDs inside the clear housing of the fan. 
Speaking of which, that fan is pretty 
small, but it rockets along at 6,000rpm 
without being too noisy. There is a 
noticeable whine to it if you listen closely, 
but, being married, we have learned to 
ignore whining somewhat. 

Put bluntly, the CoolForce was pretty 
disappointing. Its temps were several 
degrees above the stock aluminum heat- 
sink's. We weren't sure that the pushpin- 
and-spring retainers put enough tension on 
the sink to really bring it into tight contact 
with the VPU, although the two were 
obviously touching to judge by the amount 
of Arctic Silver 5 on the bottom of the 
sink. RADEON 9800s have a sort of wall 
surrounding the VPU die, requiring a 
heatsink with a slight mesa over the core 
area. The CoolForce doesn't have one. 

It's possible that some throughbolts 
and nuts could better anchor the Cool- 
Force and let it do its job. Of course, 
you shouldn't have to wrestle with an 
aftermarket cooler on a video card made 
by the VPU manufacturer. It doesn't 
get much closer to the reference design 
than that. 




ThermalTake Extreme Giant III Video Cooler 



$39 

Tested on: ASUS GeForce 4 Ti4200 

www.frozencpu.com 



CPU / PC Modder 145 



The Thermaltake Extreme Giant III 
cooler one-ups Zalman's Noiseless cool- 
er (which we'll get to next) in several 
respects. Most obviously, it has two fans. 
It also adds a second heatpipe and rectan- 
gular copper RAM sinks. 

Capping off the A1919 package is a 
fan speed controller, which is mounted 
on a PCI slot bracket. That controller 
has a three-position speed switch for the 
main fan, with a "turbo" switch that 
engages the 9,000rpm side blower. Trust 
us, you'll only use that little so-and-so 
when absolutely necessary. Even the 
main fan set to its highest setting is too 
obnoxious to listen to for long. We're 
talking serious Dirt Devil action here. 
Still, the temp and OC improvements 
were nice at the fans' top speeds. 

Thanks be to Thermaltake for includ- 
ing extra nuts and bolts with this set. 
Watch out, though: The instructions 
don't tell you to attach the RAM sinks 
until it's too late to do it easily. Save your- 
self some trouble and put them on first. 




Zalman Noiseless VGA Heatpipe 
Cooler ZM80C-HP 



$22.95 

Tested on: ASUS GeForce 4 Ti4200 

store.yahoo.com/casecooler 

/zazmvgaheco.html 

Seems that everyone wants to know how 
the silent breed of VGA coolers stack up to 
their fanned and watercooled competitors. 
Really, wouldn't we all like total silence 
from our PCs if we could get away with it? 

Large, fanless sinks like the ones in this 
kit from Zalman typically cool a bit less 
than a good heatsink/fan combo. They 
trade noise and convection for massive 
heatsinks with lots of surface area. Some, 



like this one, come with one or more heat 
pipes. These sealed metal tubes are par- 
tially filled with a good liquid for heat 
transference, such as methanol. This liq- 
uid boils near the GPU/VPU sink and 
condenses further up the tube, releasing 
heat into both sinks as it travels. There is 
an optional 80mm slim fan that mounts 
on the edges of the sinks, but our kit did- 
n't come with it. 

Our test card, an ASUS V9280 
GeForce 4 Ti4200 AGP 8X 128MB, typ- 
ifies the cheap and cheerful overclock 
candidate, populating thousands of PCs 
worldwide. It turns out that this card 
came equipped with the Zalman heatsink 
when we bought it, and we didn't have 
a more conventional stock GeForce 4 
fan/heatsink combo in our hardware 
vault. Hence, we did without "stock" 
results in our chart. 

As heatsinks go, the Zalman is an 
adventure to install. Getting all of its 
pieces attached to a 3D video card with 



thermal compound in between is a chore. 
Fathers, you do not want to assemble one 
of these in the wee hours of Christmas 
morn, especially if there has been eggnog 
in quantity. 

Cooler Concerns 

Before you order any sort of aftermar- 
ket block or sink for your video adapter, 
give some thought to whether the bene- 
fits are worth the costs. For example, if 
you're buying a new card at the same 
time as a third-party cooler in hopes of 
better overclocking, ask yourself whether 
you might be better off spending the 
extra cash on a slightly faster card in- 
stead. (Generally speaking, the upper 
tiers of particular VPU/GPUs, such as 
"Ultra" and "XT" models, don't have as 
much OC headroom as their lesser ver- 
sions. The superstar chips are typically 
already clocked up.) 

Many of the stock fan/sinks we've 
encountered have demonstrated smart 



GeForce Ti4200 Coolers 



Zalman Noiseless ThermalTake 
VGA Heatpipe Extreme Giant 

Cooler ZM80C-HP III Video Cooler 



heatsink, GPU only, 
fanless 

39.5 

42.5 



fans/heatsink 
for GPU, separate 
RAM sinks included 
30.5* 

33* 



Type of cooler 



GPU probe idle, 
stock (degrees C) 

GPU probe 3DMark03, 
stock (degrees C) 
Core frequency stock (MHz) 
RAM frequency stock (MHz) 
3DMark03 score, stock 

GPU probe idle, OC (degrees C) 

GPU probe 3DMark03, 

OC (degrees C) 

Core frequency OC (MHz) 

RAM frequency OC (MHz) 

3DMark03 score, OC 

* Both fans on highest setting. 



Our test card was an ASUS V9280 GeForce 4 Ti4200 AGP 8X with 
256MB of RAM and ForceWare 6.6.9.3 drivers. Temperatures are 
from a Thermaltake Hardcano 12 probe thermal taped near the base of 
the GPU's heatsink. We ran 3DMark03 at 1,024 x 768 with nonmask- 
able AA and 4XAF. Optimal overclocking frequencies at stock voltage 
reflected running 3DMark03 without artifacts or tearing. This card came 
with the Zalman aftermarket heatsink already attached, so we had no 
opportunity to test it with a more conventional "stock" sink and fan. ▲ 



250 


250 


513 


513 


758 


759 




41 


34.5 


43 


35.5 


330 


339 


600 


613 


905 


942 



146 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



balances among cooling skill, compact 
dimensions, and quiet operation. In 
case you're on a budget, just making 
sure that your stock heatsink has uni- 
form thermal grease contact with every 
bit of the video processor and RAM 
can lower temps and extend the over- 
clocking envelope. A good, noncon- 
ducting aftermarket thermal com- 
pound, such as Arctic Silver 5, can 
also be worth a few degrees of cooling. 

Give a thought to future-proofing 
your setup, as well. You might be able 
to reuse a third-party VPU/GPU cool- 
er on future cards, although there's a 
good chance the old cooler will not fit 
the new card. RAM sinks are much 
more likely to carry over to a new pur- 
chase. Your smartest bet is to buy 
some quality copper RAM sinks if 
your card doesn't already have some. 
Moving these to your next card should 
be as easy as twisting them off the card 
and applying some new thermal tape. 
An edge fan will transfer even more 
easily, of course. 

As for watercooling, it may or may 
not make up for its cost and mainte- 
nance requirements with incredibly 
higher overclocking results. You may 
only get modest increases, as we did. 
Ideally, you would get a waterblock 
that also touches all of the RAM, such 
as our Innovatek Cool-Matic. At cool- 
er temps, your silicon should theoreti- 
cally live longer — assuming a leak 
doesn't kill it first. CPU 

by Marty Sems 



Our test card was an ATI Radeon 
9800 Pro with 128MB of memory 
and Catalyst 4.1 1 drivers (6.14.10.6490). 
Temperatures are from a Thermaltake 
Hardcano 12 probe thermal taped near 
the base of the GPU's heatsink or 
waterblock. We ran 3DMark03 at 
1,024x768 with 4XAA and 8XAF. Optimal 
overclocking frequencies at stock voltage 
reflected running 3DMark03 without arti- 
facts or tearing. ▲ 



GeForce FX 5900 Coolers 





Stock Gainward 
5900 XT 


Logisys 3D 
Edge Fan 
Blue LED Kit 


PolarFLO 
TT Series 
Universal VGA 


Stock ASUS 
5900 


Innovatek 
Cool-Matic 
FXrevLO 
(ASUS 5900) 


Type of cooler 


fan/heatsink, 
GPU only, 
existing RAM sinks 


supplemental fan 
card (stock fan/ 
heatsink) 


waterblock, 
GPU only 


fan/heatsink, 
GPU and 
front RAM 


waterblock, 
GPU and 
front RAM 


GPU probe idle, 
stock (degrees C) 


28.5 


27.5 


22.5 


38 


22.5 


GPU probe 3DMark03 
stock (degrees C) 


, 42 


39.5 


26.3 


45 


24 


Core frequency 
stock (MHz) 


300.9 


300.9 


300.9 


399 


399 


RAM frequency 
stock (MHz) 


702 


702 


702 


850.5 


850.5 


3DMark03 
score, stock 


1974 


1977 


1976 


2069 


2064 



GPU probe idle, 
OC (degrees C) 


29.3 


28.5 


23.7 


N/A 


N/A 


GPU probe 3DMark03. 
OC (degrees C) 


44 


41 


26.7 


N/A 


N/A 


Core frequency 
OC (MHz) 


456 


457 


462 


399* 


399* 


RAM frequency 
OC (MHz) 


834 


835 


845 


850.5* 


850.5* 


3DMark03 
score, OC 


2252 


2268 


2273 


N/A 


N/A 



* Any overclocking attempts substantially lowered our 3DMark03 scores. 

Our test card was a Gainward Ultra/1 1 00 XT GeForce FX 5900 XT Golden Sample 128MB, 
except for the test of the Innovatek waterblock, which required an ASUS V9950 TVD 
GeForce FX 5900 128MB. Both cards used ForceWare 6.6.9.3 drivers. Temperatures are from 
a Thermaltake Hardcano 1 2 probe thermal taped near the base of the GPU's heatsink or 
waterblock. We ran 3DMark03 at 1,024 x 768 with 4XAA and 8XAF. Optimal overclocking 
frequencies at stock voltage reflected running 3DMark03 without artifacts or tearing. ▲ 



RADEON 9800 Pro Coolers 





Stock ATI 
9800 Pro 


Asetek Waterchill 
VGA Cooler 


Spire CoolForce 


Type of cooler 


fan/heatsink, 
GPU only, 
existing RAM sinks 


waterblock, 
GPU only 


fan/heatsink for GPU, 
separate RAM 
sinks included 


GPU probe idle, 
stock (degrees C) 


41.5 


24 


44 


GPU probe 
3DMark03, 
stock (degrees C) 


46.5 


25 


50 


Core frequency 
stock (MHz) 


378 


378 


378 


RAM frequency 
stock (MHz) 


337.5 


337.5 


337.5 


3DMark03 
score, stock 


2272 


2283 


2274 



GPU probe idle, 
OC (degrees C) 




43 


26 


44.5 


GPU probe 3DMark03, 
OC (degrees C) 


47.5 


26.3 


50.5 


Core frequency 
OC (MHz) 




383 


420 


390 


RAM frequency 
OC (MHz) 




361 


340 


350 


3DMark03 score, 


OC 


2367 


2391 


2348 



CPU / PC Modder 147 



The Soundless PC 

Use These Tips To Quiet Your Computer's Roar 



Computer chips are getting faster 
by the day, and because they 
contain evermore transistors 
crammed into a smaller area, they get 
hotter, too. But heat isn't the only by- 
product of great processing speeds — 
there's also the noise pollution that 
comes about because of the fans needed 
to keep all of those transistors cool. As a 
result, not only do you hear noise from a 
CPU fan, but you'll also be bombarded 
by the buzz of video card fans, chipset 
fans, and more. In some situations, that 
racket may simply be too much to bear. 

If your computer is creating an out- 
of-control clamor, it's time to devise a 
few strategies for noise reduction. To 
give you some ideas on how to tame 
your noisy technology, we set up a com- 
puter that created a maddening roar, 
and then, by replacing or modifying 
specific components, made our system 
almost soundless. 

Thunderous PC 

We started by setting up a system that 
was literally loud enough to make our ears 
ring. We installed a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 
onto an ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe moth- 
erboard, along with 1GB OCZ EL Dual 
Channel Series Gold Edition DDR PC- 
4400 RAM, a 52X/32X/52X/16X CD- 
RW/DVD combo drive from Lite-On, 




and then added a 7,200rpm SATA hard 
drive, a Sapphire ATI RADEON 9800SE 
video card, and the obligatory floppy 
drive. We also went with our Antec case's 
two preinstalled 80mm fans for overall 
system cooling. 

After building our test system, it was 
time to gather preliminary noise level 
data. To that end, we used a range of sim- 
ple tests to determine the sound intensity 
of the first setup we created and also for 
every cooling scheme that followed. We 
used an Extech digital sound level meter 
to measure sound on all four sides of our 
case, from a distance of about a foot. In 
some situations, the areas to the sides of 
our case were the quietest and the front 
was a bit noisier, but the rear of the case, 
near the exhaust holes, was always by far 
the loudest because there wasn't as much 
metal and plastic to block noise. 

Our initial arrangement of components 
was plenty loud. Between our CPU 
heatsink fan, the video card fan, two PSU 
fans, and the bleeps and grinding sounds 
that emanated during typical use, our sys- 
tem hit a sound level of just lower than 
50dB when we took our measurements 
from the side and front of the case. At the 
rear, we recorded a noise level of 60dB. 

Then we removed our two 80mm fans 

and added a 120mm case fan to see how 

this would affect our system. The sound 

levels we saw were 

roughly the same as 

with our first setup; 



The NoiseControl Magic 
Fleece was precut to fit 
the inside of our case. 
The dense, soft material 
significantly reduced 
vibration and rattling. 



however, noise did increase to 63dB at 
the back side of the case. 

Though our basic system was fairly 
noisy, we wanted something much louder, 
if only to help us truly appreciate the beau- 
ty of a quieter machine. That's why we 
added not one, not two, but three 80mm 
Vantec Tornado fans ($25; www.vant 
ecusa.com ) to help cool our case. 

Twister system. Vantec's Tornado fans 
have more than enough power to cool 
CPUs and to exhaust hot air that builds 
up inside a case. These fans spin at 
5,700rpm and push about 85 CFM 
(cubic feet of air) per minute. That might 
not sound impressive until you consider 
the fact that a typical 80mm fan spins at 
2,600rpm and moves air at only about 35 
CFM. As another comparison, the 
Tornado's motor consumes nearly 10 
watts of electricity when it's running at 
full speed, but average 80mm fans need 
less than 2 watts of power. 

Those power requirements help make 
Tornado fans incredibly potent, but there 
is a downside in using them to cool your 
case — each fan creates a noise that regis- 
ters at about 55dB, much louder than a 
generic 80mm fan that makes about 30dB 
worth of windy noise. To help you get 
a feel for what those numbers mean, a 
whisper registers at about 15dB, normal 
conversation is around 60dB, and a lawn- 
mower is approximately 90dB. If you pre- 
fer a quiet computing environment, this 
means that your average fans make 
enough noise to drive you crazy and that 
three Tornados are probably enough to 
make you want to drop-kick your PC out 
a third story window. 

How loud does a Tornado sound when 
it's pent up inside your PC's case? We 
installed a single Tornado at the rear 
exhaust point of our case and recorded 
noise levels of 65dB at the front and sides 
of the system. At the rear of the case, our 
meter hit 75dB. With a second Tornado 
installed near the front of the case, the 
front and sides of the case registered noise 
levels approaching 70dB, and we noted 
an increase at the rear to 78dB. Our third 
and final Tornado, installed in the front 
midsection of our case, helped push noise 
levels at the front of the case over 70dB, 



148 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



It looks innocent enough, but if 
you prefer a very quiet computing 
environment, Intel's stock CPU fan 
is loud enough to cause problems. 




and at the back side of the case, our meter 
shot all the way to 82dB. 

That number might not sound scary at 
first, but suffice it to say that you wouldn't 
want to spend any serious time in front of 
a machine spewing this kind of roar. In 
fact, current OSHA (Occupational Safety 
and Health Administration) regulations 
specify that people who work in noisy 
environments shouldn't be exposed to 
noise levels of 90dB for more than eight 
hours, otherwise they risk hearing loss. 

The Silencing Machine 

Clearly, there was no way we could 
spend even five minutes being subjected 
to the whines coming from our earsplit- 
ting creation, so we killed the power and 
considered options for silencing our 
machine. Exorcising the Tornados was 
the obvious first step, but we decided this 
was too easy, so for starters we decided to 
give our cyclonic friends a new home. 

That meant gutting our case and rein- 
stalling our components in quieter envi- 
rons. We selected a Chenming 601 for our 
Tornado-based cooling system, but to 
make the case more suitable for noise 
reduction, we installed NoiseControl 
Magic Fleece. This so-called fleece consists 
of a series of foam pieces that are precut to 
fit specific case models. The foam goes 
just about everywhere, from the top and 
bottom of the case, to both sides, to the 
inside of the drive bay door, and more. 

Using the diagram and numbered 
pieces, it took us only a few minutes to 



install the foam. With that task complet- 
ed, we gathered our electronics and fans 
and reinstalled them in the new case. We 
powered the system and recorded more 
sound level readings. 

With one Tornado installed, sound 
readings for the sides and front of the case 
registered at 76dB. Fan noise at the rear 
of the case was 77dB, about the same as 
our initial setup. 

Then we began taking out the 
Tornadoes, one by one. Removing one 
fan caused a minor decrease in sound. 
With both rear Tornados omitted, there 
was a big difference, not only because 
we removed two of the fans but also 
because our case's foam seemed to have 
a dampening effect on noises originating 
from the remaining fan at the front of 
the case. That's why we say a 12dB 
reduction from the noisiness we encoun- 
tered with our noninsulated case. 

One of our biggest concerns about 
adding layers of thick foam to our case was 
that our component temperatures would 
rise. As it turned out, our 
fears were unfounded. In 
our noninsulated case the 



ambient temperature hovered around 25 
degrees Celsius, the CPU temperature held 
at about 38 C, and the video card GPU 
was 44 C. Switching to our insulated case 
didn't cause any drastic upswing in heat 
retention. The overall case temperature set- 
tled at a comfortable 24 C, the CPU 
heatsink was 36 C, and the video card was 
a bit cooler, at 42 C. 

Those temperatures stayed about the 
same after we gave up on our Tornado 
fans for good and reverted to our two 
generic 80mm fans. And of course, minus 
the loud whine of the Tornados, our sys- 
tem noise levels plummeted to much 
more reasonable levels. 

Bad vibes. Even with the Tornadoes 
gone, we had plenty of work to do. One 
of the primary reasons that fans make so 
much noise is that their motors cause 
vibration. Sometimes, noise caused by 
those vibrations is negligible because the 
PC case absorbs the energy without creat- 
ing a din. If you're not so lucky, your 
computer case transmits those vibrations 
to other components and parts, and any- 
thing that's even slightly loose will rattle. 

There are a lot of products on the mar- 
ket that claim to dampen vibrations. We 
found out the hard way that these goods 
don't always shake out the way you might 
expect. We invested in two basic dampen- 
ing products, including rubber mounts for 
the fan cushions, and some of Directron's 
( www.directron.com ) antivibration rubber 
sticks. Initially, we planned to use these 
products together to create a vibration-free 
environment for our fans. 

The idea behind the frame cushions is 
simple. You mount the cushion between 
your case and the fan, and when installed 
properly, the cushion helps minimize 



Buying a quiet hard drive 

wasn't extreme enough for 

us. We also bought this 

copper-lined enclosure that 

helped drop drive noise to 

unnoticeable levels. 




CPU / PC Modder 149 




We used a range of fans for our tests, but the Vantec 
Tornado (center) was much louder than any of the generic 
80mm and 120mm fans we installed. 



vibrations, thus lowering noise levels. The 
antivibration rubber sticks are basically 
substitutes for the screws that secure the 
fan to the case. 

We've used the fan cushions repeatedly 
and experienced problems with them, so 
we weren't surprised by the difficulties we 
encountered in this setup. Many PC 
cases, including high-quality Antec cases, 
come with premounted fan brackets that 
let you snap the fan into place, as opposed 
to using screws. Sometimes, you can force 
the cushions between the bracket and the 
fan, but in our case, it didn't work. 

To work around this problem, we 
removed the fan brackets and tried to use 
our antivibration sticks. Unfortunately, 
we were forced to jury-rig our setup 
because these sticks didn't fit the square 
holes left behind when we removed the 
fan brackets. To avoid similar problems 
with your noise reduction techniques, be 
sure to examine your case carefully before 
ordering components. 

In the end, we did make these products 
work for us, but we would recommend 
only the fan cushions, and only then if 
you use a case that utilizes regular screw 
holes to help secure the fans you choose. 
If you experience problems with fan noise 
even when you use cushions, consider 
replacing the fans with reduced-noise ver- 
sions instead of struggling to quiet them 
with other products. 

Quiet components. We knew that 
quieting our system fans would help 
lower our overall noise levels, but fans are 
not the only components that make a 



racket inside a PC. Our hard drive, flop- 
py drive, and optical disc drives also 
needed some refinements. 

Because floppy drive technology is so 
old, it tends to create a lot of noise as the 
read and write processes go to work on 
your diskettes. There wasn't much we 
could do to lower the noise levels with 
this device, however, but because of the 
noise reduction foam on the inside of our 
case's drive bays (and because we rarely 
use this drive anyway), we didn't feel this 
was necessary. 

The hard drive and DVD drives were 
another story altogether. We decided to 
toss our DVD drive and replace it with a 
Samsung Noise Reduction 52X/24X/52X 
/16X CD-RW/DVD drive ($59; www 
.samsung.com ). This drive has added tech- 
nologies to help reduce the spinning and 
vibration noises that most optical drives 
produce. Those technologies include a 
noise reduction system that lowers sound 
levels when the disc is spinning at high 
speed, vibration absorption components, 
and hardware that mini- 



great in theory, and they really worked. 
Our regular optical drive created noise that 
topped 60dB, but our quiet drive, at 45dB, 
was hushed by comparison. 

We adopted a similar strategy to deal 
with hard drive noise. Instead of sticking 
with a regular SATA drive, we installed a 
Samsung SpinPoint ($160 street price) 
drive which, like the optical drive, comes 
with a design that reduces acoustic noise 
and helps to eliminate the awful grinding 
noises that come from older hard drives. 
This changeup did help, but not as much 
as with our optical drive. Our hard drive 
noise levels dropped from 50 to 47dB. 

We didn't stop with just a new hard 
drive. We also invested in a Smart Drive 
Quiet Hard Drive Enclosure ($70 street 
price). This product is basically a heavy- 
duty copper-lined box that, when sealed, 
helps to lower sound levels. It might 
sound foolhardy to cram a hot hard drive 
into the confines of a metal box, but the 
copper-based construction of the enclo- 
sure helps to keep the drive cool. We 
found that this product was well worth 
the investment. Although our quiet drive 
was still audible outside the enclosure, its 
spinning noises were almost completely 
silenced by the enclosure. 

Ultimate Tranquility 

Trading our drives for quieter ver- 
sions, adding fan cushions, and insulat- 
ing our case went a long way toward 
silencing our noisy machine. However, 
we still had too many noisemaking fans 
in our system, so we devised a plan to 
eliminate as many as possible. 

We didn't forget to address the fact 
that our power supply contained two 



mizes the buzzing you 




s \ _ 


hear while using a disc 




4\ 


that's a little warped. 


^^M M 


^^ 


Those concepts sounded 


^11 


P i 


Our inline Hydorwater 






pump was quiet, but not 


-j^i 




silent. Its noise levels 


^s^ H* 


B 


topped out at 54dB. 







150 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



fans. Because it's dangerous to 
crack open a PSU even if it's dis- 
connected from a wall outlet, we 
decided against any modifica- 
tions. Instead, we replaced this 
component with a fanless 480- 
watt Coolmax PSU ($140 street 
price; www.coolmaxusa.com ). 
This PSU has zero fans and relies 
on a heatsink to regulate the 
temperature of its parts, so it is 
completely quiet. 

Then we considered using a 
Zalman Reserator ($279.95; 
www.zalmanusa.com ) to help us 
replace our CPU and video card 
fans. The Reserator is a unique 
product in that it claims to pro- 
vide the cooling potency of 
water with the dead silence 
you'd expect from a PC cooled 
by only passive means. This, of 
course, sounds like the perfect 
product for a silent system. 
However, using the Reserator 
causes a number of problems. 
Because it relies on a huge tank 
with fins, instead of a fan, to 
help dissipate heat, the water 
inside runs warmer than in a 
typical watercooling system. In 
addition, the water tank is too 
cumbersome (2 feet tall), too 
heavy (14 pounds), and too 
expensive ($240 street price) to 
be of use to most enthusiasts. 

That's why we decided to stick 
with the kinds of components that 
common users can buy and imple- 
ment without sacrificing a lot of 
convenience or cash. Going this 
route meant that we would have 
to use at least one fan in our 
setup. We eventually decided to 
use a WaterChill watercooling sys- 
tem from Asetek ($280 street price; 
www.asetek.com ). This kit contained 
everything we need to cool our primary 
chips sufficiently, even during hardcore 
overclocking sessions, with a bare mini- 
mum of noise. 

Our kit came with two waterblocks, 
one for the CPU and one for the video 
card chip, as well as a radiator and 




This is the copper waterblock that replaced our stock 
Intel heatsink and fan. The block created some gurgling 
noises we eliminated by bleeding off air bubbles that 
were trapped in our cooling loop. 




Our original PSU had two fans inside. This Coolmax 
fanless PSU has no fans whatsoever, making it 
completely silent. 




Before we could install the video card waterblock, we 
had to remove the preinstalled heatsink and fan by 
pulling out the plastic pins. 



120mm fan, and the necessary hoses. 
There were two sources of noise in this 
system. The fan created a whirring 
sound as it cooled water flowing 
through the radiator, and the water 
pump was strong enough to create an 
audible purr. Our noise level meter indi- 
cated that the fan ran at about 60dB, 
and the pump worked at 54dB. 



Locked away inside our well- 
insulated case, however, these 
noises were hardly a distraction. 
At the side of our case we record- 
ed a noise level of 42dB, which 
was almost too low to detect, and 
at the rear of the case, sounds 
maxed out at only 50dB. 

Those numbers meant that on 
the side of our case, noise dropped 
by about 8dB when compared to 
our first setup. At the open, rear 
area of our system, sound levels 
dropped lOdB from our base test 
system. Compared to the over- 
whelming roar we encountered 
after we installed our Tornado 
fans, our watercooling system was 
practically silent, which was why 
noise levels at the rear side of the 
case fell nearly 30dB. 

Once we compared numbers 
and proved that our system was 
quieter, all we had to do was 
make sure our component tem- 
peratures were acceptable. With 
the watercooling system in 
place, the video card tempera- 
ture was about 4 degrees higher 
than with its cooling fan, and 
the CPU heatsink was about 3 
degrees higher. 

Soundless Finale 

In the end, our system wasn't 
completely silent, but the single 
fan we needed for the radiator 
was more than quiet enough to 
suit our needs and would likely 
please anyone who's fed up with 
excessive PC noise. We also 
proved that you don't have to 
sacrifice one iota of performance 
just to reduce your super-pow- 
ered system's howling. 
If you're frustrated with your machine's 
noise levels, try to pinpoint the culprits 
and then combine our ideas with your 
own to improve the situation. A quieter 
system will eliminate some of the frustra- 
tion of your computing experiences and 
help make you more productive. CPU 

by Nathan Chandler 



CPU / PCModder 151 



« 



Fans Case Study 

How Many You Need & Where To Put Them 



Dude, you gotta get a blow- 
hole." 

"You're gonna overclock? You need a 
side fan." 

"I'm tellin' ya, one good intake fan is 
all you need." 

You'd think that fan placement would 
be the easy part of building a PC. After 
putting together a killer rig, adding a few 
fans should be an afterthought, right? 

Nope. You need to think about not only 
how many fans you're going to need, but 
where they should go. A fan in the wrong 
place can make certain parts run hotter. 

For a time, the school of thought among 
most modders and gamers was "the more 
fans, the better." CPUs and GPU/VPUs 
were getting hotter with each new genera- 
tion. The only answer, short of "scary" 
watercooling or phase-change systems, was 
bigger heatsinks and oodles of airflow. 

Of course, it didn't take long for people 
to get tired of all the racket. Audio clues in 
first-person sneaker games got drowned out 
by the fan noise, meaning that your thief 
would make his move just as a guard was 
coming around the corner. Super-noisy 
products such as the GeForce FX 5800 
video card marked a tipping point in the 
modding movement. Today, silence is 
golden when you're building a PC. 

We set out to determine what fan setup 
would work best in a typical midtower case. 
There were a few surprises for us along the 
way; see whether they agree with your pre- 
conceived ideas about cooling. 

How We Tested 

We started with a Lian-Li PC-61 case 
( www.lian-li.com ), which had several 
80mm 2,200rpm fans we could enable or 
disable. These included two filtered intakes 
in the lower front panel, one exhaust in the 
upper rear panel just under the power sup- 
ply, and one blowhole exhaust in the top of 
the case ahead of the PSU. 



All the Lian-Li lacked was a side fan. 
Rather than cutting a hole and marring 
a beautifully anodized side panel, we 
clamped a panel with a window and fan to 
the Lian-Li. This panel from a RaidMax 
ATX-278WBP case placed the side fan so 
that it blew directly at the RAM and at the 



any airstream. We set up a third probe in 
the center of the case with its tip touch- 
ing only air. We augmented our moni- 
toring ability with Epox's Unified System 
Diagnostic Manager (USDM) 3.0.1.001 
software ( www.epox.com.tw/eng/sup 
port.php?ps=16&type=6 ), which report- 
ed temps from the processor and mobo. 

To heat things up, we ran PCMark04 
1.2.0's system tests for our CPU, case, and 
mainboard temp readings, and three game 
tests in 3DMark05 for the video card. In 
order to stress the GPU, we turned on 4X 
antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering. 



Upper Rear ' 
Exhaust Fan 




Here's the basic layout of the fans in our test 
case. The usual suspects contributing to case 
temps are the CPU, graphics 
processor, RAM, motherboard 
chipset (northbridge and 
southbridge), hard drive(s), 
and a few other components, 
such as MOSFETs and voltage 
regulator parts. The power 
supply vents out of the case, so 
it's not as guilty. 



lower-right corner of the CPU's fan. It 
also put the fan above the video card in 
the case, not under it or blowing directly 
on it. The side fan's position became 
important to our 3D card's temperatures 
later on. Frost King weatherstripping gave 
us a good seal all around the panel. 

A Thermaltake Hardcano 12 (www 
.thermaltake.com ) provided our system 
with heat probes, which we affixed to the 
bases of the CPU's and graphics proces- 
sor's heatsinks out of the direct paths of 



We used the stock heatsinks and fans 
on our Athlon 64 2800+ 754-pin CPU 
( www.amd.com ) and Gainward Golden 
Sample Ultra/1100 XT GeForce FX 
5900XT AGP 8X 128MB card ( www 
.gainward.com ), with both fans set to blow 
downward into their heatsinks. The 
GeForce 5900XT card didn't have any 
memory or other components on its top 



Instead of chopping our Lian-Li, we added a 
panel from a RaidMax ATX-278WBP case to get 
a side fan in the mix. That's genuine Frost King 

weatherstripping sealing the gaps under the 
borrowed side panel. 




152 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Fan Layout Comparison 

We recorded the maximum temperatures reached during 
PCMark04's 10 system tests or 3DMark05's three game 
tests (4XAA, 8XAF). Our test PC's Lian-Li PC-61 case was fully 
assembled with all panels in place and fans running at 2,200rpm 
except where noted. Probe temps are from a Thermaltake 
Hardcano 12's sensors, with the case probe touching nothing but 



the air in the center of the case. Utility temps are as reported by 
the motherboard's sensors per Epox's USDM 3.0.1.001 monitor- 
ing software. The system ran idle for at least five minutes between 
tests. All temperatures are reported in degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit. 
The best CPU and GPU probe temps for each tier are in bold, and 
our overall recommendations are marked with asterisks (*). A 





One 80mm Fan 


1 lower front intake, 
1 PSU exhaust 


1 side fan intake, 
1 PSU exhaust 


1 blowhole exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust 


1 upper rear exhaust 
1 PSU exhaust * 


1 lower front Intake, 
1 PSU exhaust 
[no side panel] 






CPU probe idle 


29.7/85.4 


26.7/80 


29.3/84.7 


28.5/83.3 


28/82.4 




CPU probe PCMark04 


35.5/95.9 


31.5/88.7 


34/93.2 


33/91.4 


32.5/90.5 




CPU utility idle 


34/93 


31/87 


34/93 


33/91 


32/89 




CPU utility PCMark04 


42/107 


38/100 


41/105 


40/104 


40/104 




GPU probe idle 


30.5/86.9 


30.5/86.9 


31.5/88.7 


31/87.8 


30/86.0 




GPU probe 3DMark05 


43/109.4 


43.5/110.3 


42.5/108.5 


41/105.8 


40.5/104.9 




Case probe idle 


27.5/81 .5 


26/78.8 


27.5/81 .5 


27/80.6 


27.5/81 .5 




Case probe PCMark04 


28.5/83.3 


26/78.8 


27.5/81 .5 


27/80.6 


27.5/81 .5 




Motherboard utility idle 


31/87 


31/87 


33/91 


33/91 


32/89 




Motherboard utility PCMark04 


32/89 


32/89 


33/91 


33/91 


32/89 




Two 80mm Fans 


1 lower front Intake, 
1 side Intake, 
1 PSU exhaust 


1 lower front Intake, 
1 blowhole exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust 


1 lower front Intake, 
1 upper rear exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust * 


1 side Intake, 

1 blowhole exhaust, 

1 PSU exhaust 


1 side intake, 

1 upper rear exhaust, 

1 PSU exhaust 


2 lower front Intakes, 
1 PSU exhaust 


CPU probe idle 


27.5/81 .5 


29/84.2 


29/84.2 


28/82.4 


27/80.6 


31/87.8 


CPU probe PCMark04 


31.5/88.7 


33.6/92.5 


33.6/92.5 


33/91.4 


31.5/88.7 


36.5/97.7 


CPU utility idle 


32/89 


33/91 


33/91 


32/89 


32/89 


35/95 


CPU utility PCMark04 


38/100 


40/104 


40/104 


39/102 


38/100 


43/109 


GPU probe idle 


31.5/88.7 


30/86 


30/86 


32/89.6 


32/89.6 


33/91.4 


GPU probe 3DMark05 


42.5/108.5 


41/105.8 


40/104 


44/1 1 1 .2 


42.5/108.5 


45/113 


Case probe idle 


26/78.8 


28.5/83.3 


28.5/83.3 


26.7/80 


26.7/80 


28.5/83.3 


Case probe PCMark04 


26.3/79.3 


29/84.2 


28.5/83.3 


27/80.6 


27/80.6 


29/84.2 


Motherboard utility idle 


32/89 


31/87 


32/89 


32/89 


33/91 


33/91 


Motherboard utility PCMark04 


32/89 


32/89 


32/89 


33/91 


32/89 


34/93 





















side, so it could only really benefit from 
airflow beneath it. We used an Epox EP- 
8HDA3+ motherboard ( www.epox.com/ 
USA/product.asp?id=EP-8HDA3plus) with 
a VIA K8T800 northbridge and a VIA 
VT8237 southbridge, and we popped 
in two sticks of OCZ 512MB, PC4400 
DDR with heat spreaders. We didn't over- 
clock anything in the system. 

The PC's parts were laid out as shown in 
the diagram, with the lower front intake 
fans blowing past both sides of the vertical- 
ly mounted 7,200rpm Maxtor hard drive. 
We neatly bundled or tucked all cables out 
of the way, and we sleeved the RaidMax 
KY-450ATX power supply's wire harnesses. 

Most ATX tower cooling setups involve 
intakes in the front and/or side panels, 
typically in the lower half of the case. 
Likewise, exhaust fans are generally situat- 
ed on the rear and/or top in the upper 
parts of the case. No intake fan is on the 
same side of the case as an exhaust to 
reduce recycling, and the upper front drive 



bays and expansion slots on the lower rear 
aren't crowded by fans. This vertical fan 
placement stands to reason, as hot air rises. 
A system with intake fans blowing cool air 
into the top of the case, trying to force 
heated air out through lower exhausts, 
would be less efficient. For this reason, we 
limited our fan test configurations to rea- 
sonable ones. Erm, mostly. 

Some power users like a little bit of 
positive pressure inside a case (for exam- 
ple, more intake fan cfm [cubic feet per 
minute]) than exhaust. Others like a heav- 
ier exhaust effort, but most prefer nearly 
equal pressure coming in and going out. 
We tested a number of fan setups on each 
of these three points on the pressure con- 
tinuum. Ventilation holes in the rear of the 
Lian-Li case helped to draw in air or release 
pressure as the situation required. 

We also wondered how other variables 
would affect case and component temps, 
but we didn't have enough room for all 
those permutations. For example, many 



users turn down their fan rpms to cut down 
on noise when they're not running apps 
that need a lot of power. Also, there are still 
a few users who prefer to leave the side pan- 
els off of their cases. We ran single tests of 
both scenarios for comparison purposes 
and marked them in our chart. 

Of course, the addition of a 92mm or 
120mm fan somewhere would add cooling 
power commensurate with its higher cfm 
rating. Installing one where it was not 
intended to go, however, would fall under 
the purview of one of the more hack-and- 
slash articles in this issue. 

The Way The Wind Blows 

We broke down our test results into tiers 
according to the number of fans you may 
have to supplement the typically weak 
exhaust of the power supply. We embold- 
ened the best probe temperatures for the 
CPU and graphics processor in each tier 
and put an asterisk next to our recom- 
mended setups . 



CPU / PCModder 153 





Fan Layout Comparison 
















Three Or More 
80mm Fans 


1 lower front intake, 
1 side intake, 
1 upper rear exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust 


1 lower front intake, 
1 side exhaust, 
1 upper rear exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust * 


1 lower front intake, 
1 side intake, 
1 blowhole exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust 


2 lower front intakes, 
1 upper rear exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust 


2 lower front intakes, 
1 blowhole exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust 


2 lower front intakes, 
1 side exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust 




CPU probe idle 


27.5/81.5 


28.5/83.3 


27.5/81 .5 


28.5/83.3 


28/82.4 


30/86 


CPU probe PCMark04 


32/89.6 


33.3/91 .9 


32.5/90.5 


33/91 .4 


33.3/91 .9 


35/95 


CPU utility idle 


32/89 


32/89 


32/89 


32/89 


32/89 


34/93 


CPU utility PCMark04 


39/102 


41/105 


39/102 


40/104 


40/104 


42/107 


GPU probe idle 


32/89.6 


28/82.4 


32/89.6 


30.5/86.9 


28.5/83.3 


29/84.2 


GPU probe 3DMark05 


43/109.4 


38/100.4 


43.5/110.3 


41/105.8 


39.5/103.1 


39/102.2 


Case probe idle 


27/80.6 


26/78.8 


27/80.6 


27/80.6 


27/80.6 


27/80.6 


Case probe PCMarkCW 


27/80.6 


26.7/80 


27/80.6 


27/80.6 


28/82.4 


27/80.6 


Motherboard utility idle 


33/91 


29/84 


33/91 


32/89 


30/86 


29/84 


Motherboard utility 
PCMarkCW 


33/91 


29/84 


33/91 


32/89 


30/86 


30/86 


Four Or More 
80mm Fans 


2 lower front intakes, 
1 blowhole exhaust, 
1 upper rear exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust * 


2 lower front intakes, 
1 side intake, 
1 blowhole exhaust, 
1 upper rear exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust * 


2 lower front intakes, 
1 side exhaust, 
1 blowhole exhaust, 
1 upper rear exhaust, 
1 PSU exhaust * 


2 lower front intakes, 

1 side intake, 

1 blowhole exhaust, 

1 upper rear exhaust, 

1 PSU exhaust [low speed 1.700rpm] 




CPU probe idle 


27.5/81.5 


26.3/79.3 


27.5/81 .5 


27/80.6 






CPU probe PCMark04 


32.5/90.5 


30.5/86.9 


33/91.4 


32/89.6 






CPU utility idle 


32/89 


31/87 


32/89 


31/87 






CPU utility PCMark04 


39/102 


38/100 


40/104 


39/102 






GPU probe idle 


28.5/83.3 


29.3/84.7 


27/80.6 


30/86 






GPU probe 3DMark05 


38/100.4 


39.5/103.1 


37/98.6 


42/107.6 






Case probe idle 


27/80.6 


26/78.8 


25.5/77.9 


26.3/79.3 






Case probe PCMark04 


27/80.6 


26.3/79.3 


26/78.8 


27/80.6 






Motherboard utility idle 


30/86 


30/86 


27/80 


31/87 






Motherboard utility 
PCMarkCW 


30/86 


30/86 


27/80 


31/87 

























As we said, our test results had a few sur- 
prises in store for us, such as the fact that a 
blowhole seemed to be less decisive in low- 
ering temps than did fans situated closer to 
the action. One nonsurprise is that the old 
adage holds true: The more fans, the better. 
However, a bit of care when you're arrang- 
ing those fans can make the most of the 
fans you have. Three well-placed fans cool 
as well as four haphazardly placed ones. 

One thread common to our favorite fan 
configurations was an upper rear exhaust. 
We also consider a lower front intake 
essential, especially if it can be directed 
past the hard drive(s). A blowhole seemed 
to be better as an additional fan to supple- 
ment these more basic ones, not as the 
foundation of the cooling effort. 

The side fan turned out to be a polariz- 
ing beast. When its airflow was directed 
into the case, it was good for lowering the 
CPU temperature but ended up raising the 
video card's temp. The side fan, located 
above the back of the graphics card in our 
test rig, created a front that impeded the 
flow of air from the bottom of the case past 
the GPU and upward. If you're a gamer, 



make sure that any side intake fans in your 
PC blow air straight at or underneath the 
video card, not above it. 

Turning the side fan around to 
become an exhaust seemed to help the 
graphics card and motherboard temps 
while leaving the processor warmer. We 
were sufficiently intrigued by the results 
of this fan flip that we did a few more tri- 
als in the three-fan chart. In every case, 
the GPU thrived with the side exhaust 
while the CPU wilted. 

One bad choice in our tests appeared to 
be two lower front intake fans with no 
upper exhaust save the PSU's fan. Ditto for 
two lower fronts with a side exhaust, 
although the GPU temp benefited from 
the side heat exit. And it appears that if 
you only have one or two fans in addition 
to your power supply's, you're not cooling 
your rig any better than you would by 
leaving off the side panel. Leaving your 
case open is an option, of course, although 
it's noisier. It also leaves your components 
vulnerable to dust and curious pets. 

As for noise reduction, we experi- 
mented by dropping our five fans' speed 



from 2,200rpm to l,700rpm, or about 
23%. This quieter setup still cooled bet- 
ter than some configurations with three 
fans running at full speed, which is 
something to consider. There's no real 
reason to keep your fans running at full 
speed when the PC isn't under load. 

Dust, Wind, Dude 

If you use your PC for office tasks, 
surfing, email, and music playback, you 
can get away with the fan configuration 
that's best for your CPU (and memory, 
hopefully). If you're a gamer, however, 
you'll need to choose a cooling setup 
that's fair not only to your graphics card 
but also to your processor and RAM. 

Finally, you'll also want to keep a mess 
o' tangled cables from thwarting your fans' 
best efforts. To see what a difference cable 
management can make in cooling your 
PC, flip ahead to It's In The Cables on 
page 176. CPU 

by Marty Sems 



154 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Chill Chat 



Cooling Q&A 



Regardless of whether you over- 
clock your system or not, its pri- 
mary enemy is heat. Whether 
you're running an overclocked Athlon or 
an off-the-shelf Pentium, every clock cycle 
generates excess heat that needs to be 
removed. Both Intel and AMD list their 
chips' maximum temperatures at around 
80 degrees C (176 degrees F), and if your 
system gets that hot, you're in real trouble. 
Really, you can never make your CPU 
cool enough, but aim for CPU tempera- 
tures between 40 C (104 F) at idle and 55 
C (131 F) at load. If your CPU is running 
hot, you can add an extra case fan or use 
software to help keep your system cool. 
We'll explore these options and other pop- 
ular ideas below. 



Q 



Should my PSU's fan blow 
air in or out? 



A ATX specifications say that a power 
supply fan should blow air into the 
case, through the power supply and 
onto the motherboard to move air past the 
passive heatsink. The problem with this 
setup is that if the power supply gets too 
hot, the fan will be blowing warm air 
toward the CPU. Many manufacturers 
have started shipping cases with fans that 
suck air out, ignoring ATX specs. If your 
fan blows hot air into your case, you 
might want to reverse the PSU's fan. 



Q 



If I install extra fans in my case, 
where should I put them? 



Alt depends on your case. If the sec- 
ond fan you're installing is going 
to be close to the primary fan, you 
need to install it so that the air blows the 
same direction as the first fan. If two fans 
are installed too close to each other blow- 
ing in opposite directions, it may reduce 



the efficiency of the airflow in your case. 
If the two fans are going to be on oppo- 
site sides of the case, the opposite is true; 
one fan should be blowing in, the other 
should be sucking air out. If you have 
both fans sucking air out of the case, it 
will limit air flow within the case. 

QI have half a dozen fans in my 
computer for my graphics card, 
memory, and heatsink. Is there 
any way I can reduce the number of fans 
without hurting my case's cooling? 

A Yes. Use a fan duct system. Run- 
ning several fans in your case can 
get pretty noisy, which is very 
annoying. A fan duct system will distrib- 
ute air from a single fan throughout the 
entire system to all of the heat-generating 
components. You can buy ducting systems 
as a kit, or go to a local electronics or 
hardware store and buy some plastic tub- 
ing and a blower fan to construct a duct- 
ing system of your own. You can mount 
the blower outside of the case and assem- 
ble the tubing so that fresh air is pointed 
at every heat source inside your box. 



Q 



What is a peltier cooling sys- 
tem? Is it a good alternative to 
a traditional heatsink? 



A A peltier cooler is a type of heat 
pump for your computer. Using a 
thermoelectric phenomenon called 
the Peltier Effect, a peltier cooler actively 
pumps heat away from your CPU. The 
element has a hot side and a cool side. The 
cool side draws heat away from the CPU 
and transfers it to the hot side. A peltier 
cooler generates its own heat when it's 
operating, however. Even though the cool- 
er will remove more heat from the CPU 
than a traditional heatsink, the overall case 
temperature will increase. If you're going 
to use a peltier cooler, you need to make 



sure your system fans are operating at all 
times. If they aren't, the extra heat from 
the peltier setup can cook your system. 

You should also be aware that, due to 
the large amounts of power required to 
operate a peltier system, your power sup- 
ply may be inadequate. Some peltier cool- 
ers turn on only after the CPU heats up 
to a particular temperature, which eases 
their power requirements. This feature 
can also prevent (or at least help reduce) 
condensation, which is sometimes a by- 
product of peltier systems. If you buy a 
high-quality peltier kit, and have enough 
power to supply to the element, and have 
enough case fans, peltier coolers are a very 
worthwhile option. 

Ql've heard about software that 
can help keep my system cool. 
How do these programs work? 

A One such program, Cpuldle ( www 
.cpuidle.de) , is designed to help your 
computer lower energy consump- 
tion, enable overclocking, and lower CPU 
temperature. The software manages your 
system's energy efficiency, which corre- 
sponds to a drop in temperature output, by 
putting the CPU to sleep whenever it 
encounters an HLT instruction. An HLT 
instruction is a code that tells your CPU to 
stand idle while waiting for an external 
command, such as input from the key- 
board, hard drive, or CD-ROM. This idle 
time translates to wasted energy and heat 
output without the benefit of useful proces- 
sor output. The software can put the entire 
system to sleep or just work in the back- 
ground to help reduce the idle clock cycles 
of your CPU. 



Q 



I want to overclock my ATI 
RADEON video card, but 
I'm afraid it'll run too hot. 

Can I use an alternative to the card's 

original heatsink? 



CPU / PCModder 155 



How Can I Keep My Hard Drive Cool? 




Slap the DiskTwin 

onto your hard drive to 

keep it chillin' when it's spinnin' 



s with processors, there are active and passive cooling 
products for hard drives. If you have a smaller PSU and 
need to watch your component's power consumption, you're 
better off with a passive cooler such as the DiskTwin 
( www.nexustek.nl ). Just make sure you have plenty of airflow 
from your system's case fans. The DiskTwin is made of solid 
aluminum and includes thermal pads to increase heat transfer. 
Each unit also includes rubber absorber blocks, so not only will 
it reduce heat, it also reduces vibration noise from your hard 



drive. Mount it to your 3.5-inch drive and reinstall the drive into 
a free 5.25-inch bay and you're done. 

If you have a hefty power supply and can afford the extra juice, 
you can use one of Vantec's hard drive coolers, such as the Ultra 
Thin Aluminum Hard Drive Cooler (model HDC-502A; www.va 
ntecusa.com) . The unit runs off of 12VDC power and mounts into 
any 3.5-inch or 5.25-inch bay and provides up to 24CFM of extra 
cooling for your drive. It's designed to fit directly to the bottom of 
your drive, and its aluminum frame draws out extra heat. , 



Of course. If you're a daring modder 
looking for even lower video card (and 
CPU) temperatures, you should consid- 
er water-cooling your video card and 
perhaps the CPU as well. In order to do 
that, you'll need a water block for your 
video card's chipset (not to mention a 
radiator, a pump, a reservoir, some tub- 
ing. . . .). A universal chipset water 
block is the best way to go. Such water 
blocks are designed to fit all standard 
northbridge pinsets, GeForce4, GeForce 
FX, and RADEON video cards and may 
even come in a variety of colors to 



match your case's color scheme. Choose 
a water block that uses large ID (inside 
diameter) barbs, such as y2-inch, and 
buy your tubing accordingly. 

The water block will obstruct the adja- 
cent PCI slot, so if space is an issue you 
may need to "shuffle your cards" to make 
room. But your video card's heatsink is 
probably taking up that space already. 
Speaking of which, you can easily remove 
the old heatsink. First, unscrew the plas- 
tic cover over the heatsink (if there is 
one), then remove the spring-loaded 
screws holding the heatsink in place. 



Once you've removed the screws, pop off 
the heatsink. Replace it with the water 
block, connect the tubing to the barbs, 
tighten down the tubes with some 
clamps, and connect the tubes to the rest 
of your water cooling system. Water 
cooling is a more adventurous mod, but 
you'll be able to cool your video card 
much more effectively than with a stan- 
dard air-powered cooler. CPU 

by David Miller 



156 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



C M O D D E R 




I've made many cases over the past 
few years, from simple window-and- 
blowhole mods to the total fabrica- 
tion of recent projects such as "spike." 
Every one of my designs is drastically dif- 
ferent from the last, and they're all origi- 
nal creations. With this project, I took a 
departure from my usual style of design 
and decided to build a case 
that is based on one of the 
most visually stunning game 
creatures in recent history. 

In May of 2003 I found 
myself and 20 strangers 
packed into a small room 
of a hotel in Los Angeles to 
witness the first public 
showing of Valve's Half- 
Life 2. It was in that awe- 
inspiring demo that I first 
heard the call of "STRID- 
ER." In the demo, a lanky- 
legged behemoth appeared 
from behind a destroyed 
building and laid a beating 
on the resistance fighters 
and cart pusher extraordi- 
naire, Gordon Freeman. 



You can't beat the fun of 
sanding urethane foam. 



Case Cutters 

Say Hello To Strider 



As I left the room in awe of 

what I'd just seen, I turned to my 

friends and said, "That three-legged 

strider walker thing would make a 

cool case mod, but I'll be damned 

if I'll ever try it." 

Fast-forward 18 months to 
October 2004, when the antici- 
pation for the release of Half- 
Life 2 hit a fever pitch. It became 
apparent that the game would be 
released sometime in the near 
future, and I was trying to figure out 
what my next case project would be. I 
suggested the Strider case mod idea to a 
few friends, and everyone seemed to like it. 
But the game had not been released yet, 
and I didn't even know if it would be pos- 
sible to convert Valve's creature design into 
a computer case. 

I spent many hours searching for videos 
and screen shots of Strider, but I was not 
able to find any that had the level of detail I 



needed. I contacted Valve software to see if 
they could supply me with some high-reso- 
lution images, and to my surprise the com- 
pany promptly approved my request. Less 
than a week later, I had high-resolution 
images and videos of Strider, and I was able 
to see just what I had to do in order to base 
a case mod on the creature. 

I originally thought that the strider was 
purely mechanical. But as I got a closer 
look at it, it became apparent that Strider 
was more biomechanical. The legs and 
body shell are more bone than metal, 
with the exception of the exhaust port on 
top. The underside of the body is darker 
and looks more mechanical. The infa- 
mous gauss gun and conduits on its belly 
are melded with organic shapes to create 
an interesting and somewhat alien-like 
finish. The most interesting part of the 
model was the contrast between the hard 
bone-like textures on its top and the shiny 
softer textured underbelly. 




CPU / PCModder 157 




Before seeing the detailed images of 
the strider I was not too sure that the 
model would lend itself to a mod. But 
after studying images of Strider, I was 
quite confident that it could be done. 

At this point I had a deci- 
sion to make; I could make 
a Strider diorama with the 
PC housed in the base, or I 
could make a scaled-down, 
free-standing strider with 
the computer in the body of 
Strider. Both would be a 
challenge, but I felt that the 
diorama would essentially be 
a cop-out. I have always 
believed that the essence of 
the mod is the container in 
which the hardware is 
mounted, therefore the free- 
standing concept would be 
the best option. 

I knew I couldn't build a 
Strider with a full ATX sys- 
tem inside the body because 



The top cover begins 
to take shape. 



in order to keep to scale the case would 
have to be 12 feet tall. I had to use the 
smallest components possible. For every 
inch of width added to the Strider body, I 
would have to add 4 inches to its height. 



The inside of the case. Lots of 
good stuff will go here. 



The first major hurdle in 
the project was getting my 
hands on the hardware I 
wanted to use. I hand no 
problem getting a SATA 
drive and a slim line slot 
load drive, but the VIA 
Nano ITX board that I had 
envisioned powering this 
creation proved to be an elu- 
sive catch. I couldn't start 
building this project until I 
had the components final- 
ized, otherwise I might end 
up building a case that was 
too small for the compo- 
nents. In the end, I had no 
choice but to increase the 
size of the case design and 
base the system on the VIA 
EPIA Ml 0000 mainboard. I 
would need to almost double the size of 
the Strider body to fit the board in it. 

The Strider project started as nothing 
more than a pile of hardware, a 7V2-inch 
square acrylic box and a 6-pound block 




158 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




of urethane. My deadline was approach- 
ing, and to make the pressure more 
intense, I had decided to animate the 
head and gauss gun. At this point, my 
confidence in completing the project on 
time was at a low. 

I needed help, so I enlist- 
ed Travis Jackson, who has 
helped me in some capacity 
on almost every project I've 
done. As I got busy carving 
the urethane foam, Travis 
took it upon himself to 
work on the animatronics 
involved in the mod. 

In order to build Strider, I 
had to break down the crea- 
ture into several sections: the 
top cover, the main body, 
the head, and the leg assem- 
bly. I started with the top 
cover first. I used the acrylic 
box to represent the volume 
taken up by the system's 



Strider stands for the first 

time, but there's still a lot 

of work to do. 



hardware and carved out the shape of the 
top cover. I sanded the foam until I was 
happy with the result. It took two tries to 
get the angle of the top piece to fit right, 
but I finally had what I wanted. 



Strider's soft underbelly. 
Crack it open and enjoy with 
drawn butter. 



Urethane foam is great for 
sculpting, but it doesn't lend 
itself well to fine detail work. 
I added the finer details of 
Strider with clay, but before 
I could apply the clay to the 
foam, the foam needed to be 
hardened with some resin so 
the clay would stick to it. At 
each step of this project, I 
strengthened the foam with 
resin and fiberglass. 

After I finished the top 
cover, I started work on the 
main body. I used the acrylic 
box as a base for the body. I 
attached raw foam pieces to 
it and carved out the shape 
of the underbody. The main 
body of Strider would ulti- 
mately house the system's hardware and 
the head servo assembly and also serve as 
the anchor for the tripod leg mounts. 

Next, I fabricated an inner frame for 
Strider. The frame needed to support the 




CPU / PCModder 159 




weight of the unit and serve as a mount for 
the gauss gun. Part of the frame would also 
serve as the mounting brackets for Strider's 
legs. I made the frame from aluminum and 
riveted it together in a T shape. I attached 
the frame to the midsection of the body 
with lag bolts. I then carved the lower por- 
tion of the body and the head. 

The head was the hardest part to carve. 
The top of the head was similar to the tex- 
ture of the top cover, but the bottom part 
resembled the mid- and lower sections. 
The angles and curves involved also proved 
to be a challenge. I took my time carving 
the shape of the upper section before shap- 
ing the lower portion with some clay tools. 
I could not get the shape of the ball at the 
front of the head right, so I decided to use 
an acrylic sphere instead. The proboscis in 
the front of the head is the Strider's prima- 
ry cannon, and I used an inflating needle 
(just like the one you use to inflate a bas- 
ketball) to represent this. 

I attached the head to a threaded rod 
which in turn was attached to a mounting 
plate. I used a bearing to let the rod rotate 
freely on the Y axis but not on the X and 
Z axis. I then attached the rod to a servo 
via a control arm. 



I used this setup on the gauss gun, as 
well; it lets the rod stay firmly in place 
while rotating on the axis the users want 
to control. It also provides the degree of 
rotation needed to make the head and 
gun rotate effectively. 

The lower part of the Strider body was 
a deceptively complex piece to cut and 
carve. The body needed to cover the frame 
as well as serve as a decorative piece, and 
some of the areas of the body were paper- 
thin. After I finished carving this piece, I 
strengthened it with fiberglass to prevent 
it from breaking. 

With all the major foam-carving out of 
the way and the majority of the fiberglass 
work finished, I could now focus on get- 
ting the details right. By this time, Half- 
Life 2 ads had been released, and I was 
able to view the actual in-game Strider 
model via the model viewer included with 
the SDK. Up to this point, I was basing 
my Strider design from the images Valve 
sent me, but the pics didn't give me a true 
360-degree view of the underside of the 
model. Now I could create the model as 
accurately as possible. 

I used Super Sculpty clay, a great 
hobby clay which can be dried at low 



I couldn't forget the details. 
Here, an airbrushed insignia on 
the top of the case. 



temperatures in a normal 
oven, so there's no need for 
a kiln. And as a bonus it can 
be sanded and cleaned up 
after it has been hardened. 
Super Sculpty's downside is 
that the stuff is brittle when 
dry, so to give my clay a lit- 
tle extra protection, I coated 
it with some resin. Most of 
the clay work I did was on 
the lower portion of the 
body, with some additional 
work on the top cover. I 
simply dried the clay in the 
oven on low heat. 

Now it was time to start 
on the legs. I constructed the 
core of the legs with '/2-inch- 
thick PVC pipe. I fabricated 
the knee joints from copper pipe that I cut 
into 5-inch sections and then pounded flat 
and shaped into hinges. I made the hip 
joints by inserting rods into the PVC with 
some silicon adhesive to hold them in 
place. It seemed like a solid mounting sys- 
tem initially, but I soon found out that I 
had made a big error that would cost me a 
lot of time. 

I used some foam to shape the ends of 
the pipe to look like bone. I used light- 
weight auto body filler to finish off the 
legs. I applied it rather sloppily and sand- 
ed and shaped the body filler to give it a 
bone-like texture. 

Finally, I could see what the Strider 
would look like fully assembled. But I 
made a mistake using round pipes and 
rods to attach the legs. The round rod 
rotated inside the pipe, which made the 
unit unstable. It also put immense strain 
on the joint between the rod and the leg 
assembly, which in turn caused that joint 
to fail. My first look at the rough Strider 
was a bittersweet moment. I could see the 
end of this project, but I had to face the 
fact that I had erred in my rush to finish 
the job. I spent the next day trying to find 
some square rod and pipe but came up 



160 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



empty. I had to find a way to strengthen 
the joint with the material I had on hand. 

The leg joint situation held me back for 
quite some time, but eventually I was able 
to fix the problem with some fiberglass, JB 
Weld, and a couple of well-placed screws. 
The unit was finally able to stand on its 
own for the first time. The Strider is a little 
front-heavy, and its center of gravity makes 
the unit want to twist. But when the legs 
are positioned right the unit stands solidly. 

I spent several hours contemplating how 
to paint the Strider after I finished con- 
structing it. I took a trip to the local hobby 
shop and picked up a wide selection 
of paints. Testors make a great line of 
enamels that can be thinned for use in an 
airbrush. I cut my teeth with airbrushing 
during the spike build, and I got some 
practice in building Halloween props. I 
knew I wouldn't find the exact colors I 
needed, so I mixed my own custom colors. 
Strider's belly looks black at first glance, 
but it really has a lot more color detail that 
you'd think. I started with a black base 
coat and then sprayed the lower portion 
with burnt umber. I lightly coated the 
piece with various earth tones. Strider's 
lower portion also has some gold tones, so 
I took gold paint and mixed it with raw 
umber and a reddish-brown paint called 
leather. I used this understated dull gold 
paint to accent certain pieces such as the 
circles on the front and the conduits that I 



pressed into the clay. The next step was to 
accent the piece with some rust color tones 
and finish it off with some black shadow- 
ing before clear coating it. 

I used the same techniques on the main 
part of Strider's body as I did with the 
lower portion, but I used more of the gold 
and red tones to give it more of a gradated 
color blend. I finished the piece with black 
shadowing and a layer of clear coat. 

The top cover and head where the 
most difficult parts to paint. I saved them 
for last because I was not sure how to 
make the pieces look like bone. Early in 
the project I decided to simply coat these 
parts with resin. The natural porousness 
of the foam gave it a rough texture, but 
after priming the part I could see that this 
would not be good enough to make the 
top look like bone. It was time to do 
some experimentation once again. 

I mixed a sand color with a small 
amount of yellow and white paint. This 
gave me the base color of the Strider. I 
then mixed a reddish-orange color from 
red, white, and burnt umber paints and 
randomly sprayed the unit with this con- 
coction. I then finished the part with some 
black paint, but I wasn't happy with the 
look. I could clearly see it was too dark. I 
sanded down the paint and started again. 

Sometimes, when you're modding a 
PC, you'll make mistakes that set you 
back. But other times there are mistakes 



that help you along the way, happy acci- 
dents. While sanding off the paint, I had 
a happy accident. The sanding pulled out 
the sand color more and the pores in the 
foam trapped the orange and black paint, 
which gave the model a pitted and worn 
look that was almost identical to the tex- 
ture of the Strider model. I repeated this 
technique on the remaining pieces, and 
the paint job was nearly finished. 

The Strider has some red accents, most 
noticeably the insignia on its top and the 
red bands on its legs. I had Travis print 
the insignia, then cut it out to use it as a 
template. I sprayed the insignia on top. 

After three long, hard weeks of build- 
ing, painting, and cursing, the Strider was 
ready for the system hardware. The hard- 
ware installation was easy because I had 
already worked out how everything would 
fit. Within a few hours, I was ready to 
throw the switch on the system, at 3 in 
the morning on the day of the deadline. 
Strider was finally done. 

This project would not have been pos- 
sible with out the help of Travis Jackson, 
Gabe Newell, Kaylee Voit, and the rest of 
the Valve software team, for making a 
visually stunning game with a fantastic 
creature design like that of Strider. This 
was the most brutal build I have done, but 
it was worth it to see the results. CPU 

by Gareth Powell 




CPU / PCModder 161 



Mod(ern) Art 

Dremel Masters Showcase Their Skills 



Alpha Orange 



Mod by Bruno Ferretti aka Alonso_bistro 



« 



gk lpha orange" is my very first 
' Z^ modding project. At the begin- 
■A. .m. ning, it just looked like a slightly 
modded black case with lights and fans, 
no more. I had the black case, mesh, 
LEDs, a Dremel, a washing machine's 
window, and a Musketeer. I decided to 
break everything, including the Muske- 
teer, and do the whole thing again. 

After a few searches while thinking of 
the design of the side panel, I decided on 
orange paint and all of a sudden every- 
thing became clear. I began by cutting a 
flame on the front. I added mesh on the 
top of the case and painted it with two 
lines of orange and black paint. Then I 
attached a pair of handles to the top. 

The side panel, after many changes, 
became quite a good-looking piece, made 
with an orange Plexi sheet at the back, 
bordered by a U joint. I cut a space for 
the washing machine's window to fit in. 




I disassembled the Musketeer and sepa- 
rated the gauges from the PCB: The origi- 
nal lighting of the gauges was in the PCB, 
so I had to create another lighting system 
for each gauge, using a blue LED and a thin 
sheet of Plexi. I made new cylinders for the 
Musketeer gauges from aluminum sheets, 
which are held by rounded mesh, fixed on 
two Plexi supports. The one on the top is a 
Plexi "alpha" Dremel cut under orange 
Plexi. The cylinders are linked to the wash- 
ing machine's window by black pipes. Even 




Tech Specs 



MOBO 


ASUS A7N8X-X 


CPU 


Athlon XP 2800+ 


RAM 


2x512 Infineon PC 3200 


Video 


ASUS V9999 GT 


HDD 


120GB Seagate Baracuda 
7200/ 40GB Seagate 
Baracuda 7200 


PSU 


Tagan 480W 



if the side panel looks industrial now, the 
pipes are useful for hiding the wires. 

Now back to the front of the case, to 
which I added an LCD: a standard four- 
line crystalfont, blue, fixed with screws on 
the Musketeer's empty box, with a new 
orange Plexi front and two rounded Plexi 
sheets on the top and bottom, lightened by 
four blue LEDs, just like the opticals drives 
I'd already done. I added two Open/Close 
switches for the CD-RW and the DVD- 
RW drives. The front fan is a 120mm 
model from Enermax. I have more plans 
for this case: I'm going to watercool it and 
add some more features to it. 

Modding makes me feel good, and I 
really like the idea of turning a case into 
useful art. But I'm feeling limited by 
square cases. My next project will be a 
totally different one, far removed from 
squares and rectangles, to a frontier where 
no one has gone before. 




162 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Decepticon 



Mod by Skyler "Sky" Salmasi 



I was inspired to design the Decepti- 
Mod when the new Transformers 
Armada toys started arriving on store 
shelves. When I was a kid, the Autobots and 
Decepticons rocked. Every day we rushed 
home to catch a new episode of the 
Transformers. When I rushed out to buy a 
few of the new Armada toys, I was amazed 
to see that these toys sell for $50 or more. 
So I decided to plan an entire gaming 
machine that would house the evil of the 
Decepticons, the DeceptiMod. 




Two blue CCFLs and four Antec blue 
LED fans with a Vantec Rheobus con- 
troller provide DeceptiMod's inner blue 
glow. In a past mod, I had completely 
designed a fan bus from scratch. After 
many days of work, including a trip to the 
emergency room for stitches, I figured a 
store-bought fan controller was an excel- 
lent investment. For the DeceptiMod, I 
made a total of three window cut-outs with 
a Dremel. It took many hours and a ton of 
reinforced Dremel cut-off wheels. I did all 
the laser engraving in a 
laser engraving shop. 
The images were created 
in Adobe Photoshop 
and then transferred to 
a laser engraver. The 
Decepticon emblem on 
the front of the case 
is laser engraved into 
metal and then glued to 
the front panel of the 



case. I used the same technique for the top 
window DVD cover. 

I wanted the wires to be manageable, so 
I covered each cable from the PSU with 
heatshrink. Although this took many 
hours, I found that the wires were easy to 
bend and hide. I used cheapo Krylon paint 
for the custom paint job. It took about two 
weeks to properly paint the case with am- 
ple drying time. There are about 10 coats 
total; three primer coats, three coats of 
paint, and four layers of clearcoat, which I 
followed with lots of rubbing compound 
and Meguires Car Wax. The clearcoat is so 
high gloss it reflects any surface. This mod 
has made it to many popular LAN parties 
and has served its purpose very well. 



Tech Specs 



MOBO 


SOYO Dragon 2 875P 
Platinum mobo 


CPU 


Intel P4 3.0 


RAM 


1GB PC3200 Video: GeForce 
Fx 5700 Ultra 



Audio 


SB Audigy 2 


HDD 


60gig HD 8mg 


CD/DVD 


DVD writer/48x CDROM 


PSU 


480WTrueBlue PSU 



Lord Of The Rings 



Mod by Ken Kirby 



For my Lord of the Rings case mod, 
I knew that I wanted to use a desk- 
top case enclosed in a castle. And I 
wanted it to look nothing like a computer. 
I searched high and low for Fleck spray 
paint and finally found some at a hobby 
store. Anything you paint with this stuff 
will have the appearance of stone. Next I 
stripped an AT case I had down to the bare 
metal and began to slowly match the rock 
look of a castle to the case. When I fin- 
ished painting the case, I began assembling 




the PC parts. The AT style case would 
not hold a standard ATX motherboard, so 
I went with an Epia VIA VI 0000 Mini 
ITX mobo. The board comes with a 1GHz 
processor and has onboard audio and 
video. I used 256MB of PC100 RAM, a 
150W PSU, a 9GB hard drive, and a CD 
drive. I then purchased the 'One Ring' 
with UV sensitive writing on the band, 
which I later hung in the castle's doorway 
with UV lights behind it. 

The next step was to mount the 
Plexiglas cover for the 
castle. I wanted it to 
look like a courtyard, 
which would be the 
finishing touch for 
my mod. I used sand- 
paper to roughen up 



the areas where I wanted "grass" to be. I 
purchased some modeling scenery grass 
and some Elmer's glue and began sprin- 
kling it on. Before long I had the perfect 
look. I added the Witch King, Fell Beast, 
Frodo, and Gandalf LOTR figures into 
the mix to pull off the perfect movie- 
esque look. The last item to take care of 
was adding green cold cathodes to the 
interior of the case and some green laser 
lights to two of the castle towers to bring 
a little lighting to the courtyard. This 
has been one of my wildest ideas in 
modding, but not my last. 



Tech Specs 



MOBO 


Epia VIA V1 0000 Mini ITX 


CPU 


1 GHz CPU 


RAM 


256MB PC1 00 


Video 


Integrated 


Audio 


Integrated 


HDD 


9GB 


CD/DVD 


1 CD drive 


PSU 


150W 



CPU / PCModder 163 



The Wall 



Mod by Bill Owen 



2004 was the year of Doom 3 and 
Half-Life 2. Though these were 
the trend of the moment, I've 
never followed the crowd. I wanted my 
first case mod theme based upon what 
inspires me, and that's rock and roll. 
Throughout my school years, Pink 
Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall/ 
The Happiest Days of Our Lives" from 
The Wall album was my mantra. What 
remained emblazed on my mind was the 
movie's animation by Gerald Scarfe. 

After seeing Gerald's marching ham- 
mers, I imagined a hammer as a carrying 
handle. This idea set my project in 
motion. I chose Kingwin's 424 aluminum 
midtower ATX case, which is ideal for 
modding because it's easy to disassemble. 
I ran to the local hardware store to find 
the perfect hammer. I needed to reinforce 
the top panel for my handle idea, so I 
grabbed my jigsaw and cut a reinforce- 
ment plate from 16-gauge steel to mount 
beneath the top case panel. 

Now the chassis and 5.25 bay covers 
were ready for a Blood Red powder coat 
finish. After the chassis arrived back from 
powder coat shop, I dressed all of the fan 
holes with black u-channel molding and 
antivibration grommets. I replaced the 
intake fans with Coolermaster 80mm 
White LED fans, and I added a 120mm 
Coolermaster Red LED fan in the top 
panel. I used a 92mm Panaflo low-speed 
fan as an exhaust fan. 

Armed with my Dremel and array of 
cutting attachments, I made a 92mm fan 




grill from 0.02-inch thick Styrene shaped 
like Gerald's marching hammer design. I 
made another to mount upon the steel 
ring I made from a 120mm finger guard. 
I sprayed flexible primer over each styrene 
grill and painted them with Testors 
model paint. Then I cut "Pink Floyd Inc" 
in 0.01-inch-thick styrene mounted on 
clear Plexiglas, which covers two 3.5-inch 
FD bays. It's illuminated from behind 
with a 4-inch cold cathode light. 

All the case panels except for the access 
panel were ready to be prepped for paint- 
ing. I removed and sanded each panel 
with 600-grit sandpaper. Then I applied 
black "self etching" primer for the color 
base coat. Next, I applied four coats of 
gloss black laquer aerosol paint. After the 
paint cured I applied two coats of clear 
laquer. Two days later I wet-sanded the 
case starting with 1200-, 1500-, and 
2000-grit sandpaper before buffing it to a 
shine with rubbing compound. 

I shipped the access panel to my friend 
Chris Baltar so he could cut it with a 




Tech Specs 



Mobo 


Intel D875PBZLk 


CPU 


P4 2.8 GHz cooled by 
Swiftech's mcx478-v with 
92mm Panaflo fan 


RAM 


1GB Kingston HyperX 
3200 DDR 400 


Video 


ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 


Audio 


Sound Blaster Audigy 2/ 
Logitech 5.1 speakers 


HDD 


80GB Western Digital Caviar 
(master)/ 200GB Seagate 
Barracuda (slave). 


CD/DVD 


TDK DVD-RW/Lite-On 
DVD-CD-RW 



water jet. I wanted it fashioned after 
Gerald's marching hammers. Chris pro- 
grammed the water jet to cut a circular 
12-inch opening in my access panel first. 
Then he cut the intricate window pieces 
in red and black translucent acrylic. I 
glued the aluminum pieces into the win- 
dow and stood back in amazement. 

I also bought a 1 -pound box of Super 
Sculpey and set of wooden clay tools. My 
plan was to mold the "face in the wall" 
image from the DVD over the case's 
intake grill. The open mouth would act as 
a cool air intake. A large air gap already 
existed beneath the bezel so a smaller 
front intake wasn't detrimental to airflow. 
I fabricated a steel plate with a ventilation 
hole to attach the molded face to the case. 
I had to epoxy the face onto the plate. 
The mouth was illuminated inside by two 
80mm white LED fans. 

My modding partner Lin Anderson 
airbrushed the case. Lin airbrushed bricks 
over the bezel and beneath the window. 
Then he colored in features of the face 
and gave it the appearance of skin being 
stretched over the bricks. The lyrics on 
top of the case are from "Outside the 
Wall" and were cut from red vinyl. 

My biggest concern during the project 
was that it would pass the scrutiny of Pink 
Floyd fans. Though it's received lots of 
positive comments so far, there are a cou- 
ple things I might have done differently. I 
think the handle would look better if the 
mounting plate was hidden underneath 
the top panel. I thought about incorporat- 
ing an LCD monitor in the bezel for dis- 
playing scenes from the movie. I couldn't 
have done this mod without being 
inspired by Gerald Scrafe's memorable 
animation and the music I love. 




164 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Project: Hive Mind 



Mod by Jamie "Dakal" Hutton 



I made Hive Mind using a Chenming 
90 IB Full Tower case. The shell of 
the case was all one piece and would 
have been very complicated to work with 
when Dremeling, so I chopped it into three 
panels, one for each side, then cut windows 
in each panel: two X shaped and one large 
square window for the left panel. I also 
made a large rectangular cut for the top 
window, and I cut four random rectangles 
on the right panel. I figured airflow in the 




case would be a problem, so I cut a 120mm 
fan hole in the front of the chassis, as well 
as two rectangles in the upper region for a 
window and a fan controller. I sanded the 
chassis and painted it several times to give it 
a mirror black finish. 

After I had dealt with the chassis, I 
began texturing the three side panels. I 
used 3mm-thick paperboard to create the 
geometric shapes for each panel. I cut 
each shape with an Exacto knife. On the 
right and front panel, you'll notice an 
accent piece I call the "The Optical 
Implant." I cut and sanded 5mm-thick 
acrylic to shape the base of each side of 
the implant. Then I used random objects 
that I had been collecting over time to 
fashion the Borg-like implant. 

Once the panels had been cut and tex- 
tured with the paperboard, I randomly 
glued nuts and bolts, scrap metal, and plas- 
tic pieces to the case to create the look of a 



Borg Cube. After all the smaller pieces and 
paperboard were in place, I utilized some 
drop-ceiling hanger-wire to create the intri- 
cate pipelines that are present on Borg ves- 
sels, and to make it look that much cooler. 
I sleeved the PSU and replaced its old 
metal cover with a green acrylic one. I 
glued some LEDs into place and sleeved 
their wires as well. I painted the CD- 
ROM drives mirror black and relocated 
their Eject buttons to the right side of the 
optical implant. I also stealthed the CD- 
ROM drives using the same method as 
the rest of the outer shell. I painted the 
outer shell of the case gloss black. 



Tech Specs 



MOBO 


ASUS A7V8X 


CPU 


AMD Athlon XP 
200+ (1.6GHz) 


RAM 


768MB Kingston RAM 



ATI 9800PRO 256MB 



HDD 


60GB Seagate ATA 7,200rpm/ 
80GB Maxtor ATA 7,200rpm 


CD/DVD 


52X CD-ROM and 
CD-RW/DVD-RW drive 


PSU 


Thermaltake Purepower 
420W PSU 



Record Player PC 



Mod by Haig Malkhasyan 



In November 2003, just after my 
13th birthday, I started thinking 
about making my first custom com- 
puter case. One day, I saw a Crosley 
1930s record player replica being sold in a 
magazine. My mom always wanted to 
convert her priceless record collection she 
brought with her from Russia into CDs, 
and I thought a computer in a record 
player would be the perfect mod. 

After completely gutting the record 
player, I cut a W-inch thick Plexiglas base 
for it. I also cut a channel into the base 
with a router for 60 amber LEDs. The 




two intake fans started out as standard 
clear fans, but after three days of solder- 
ing, ended up as amber LED fans. 

Next, I made a hard drive and CD drive 
rack and a modified mobo tray, which I 
bolted to the Plexiglas base. I modded the 
front panel to make room for a Matrix 
Orbital VK202-25-V Character VFD, 
which I painted and rewired to turn the 
computer on and off and to open the 
Toshiba laptop drive. 

I also created a "book" for the case, 
which is a decorative box designed to look 
like "A Farewell to Arms." I installed the 
Enermax 550W PSU 
and a modified Sony 
PlayStation 2 in the 
box, then covered the 
top with Vi -inch oak. I 
took apart the keyboard 



and mouse and painted them with a special 
wood-grain finish, accented by brass pieces. 
I replaced every LED in the mouse and 
keyboard with an amber LED. The record 
player is completely functional and plugs 
into the sound card's Line In jack so I can 
convert my mom's old records into CDs. 

I have a computer that is very practical: 
I can play records on it, convert records 
into any format I want, play games on it, 
and use it as a conventional computer. ▲ 



Tech Specs 



MOBO 


ABIT NF7-S 


CPU 


AMD Athlon XP 2500+ Mobile 


RAM 


1GB Corsair XMSPC3500 


Video 


ATI RADEON 9800 XT with 
modified 2500+ heatsink and 
custom BGA sinks; ATI TV 
Wonder VE 


Audio 


Creative Labs Sound Blaster 
Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro 


HDD 


2 x 36.6GB SATA Western 
Digital Raptors (10,000rpm) 


CD/DVD 


Toshiba 8X DVD/24X/1 2X/32X 
CD-RW laptop drive 


PSU 


Enermax 550-watt PSU 



CPU / PCModder 165 



Project 3-e 



Mod by Jerry M. aka ewarz 



PC modding has always been a 
hobby of mine, and it's always 
been my goal to make my towers 
look as sharp as possible without in- 
terfering with performance. My latest 
modification is a modest 3.0cGHz 
Prescott CPU mounted on an ABIT IC7- 
Max3 motherboard with 1 GB of Corsair 
XMS PC-3200 DDR RAM and an ATI 
Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB 8X video card. 
For storage I'm using a Western Digital 
74GB Raptor drive and a Western Digital 
120GB standard drive. For my optical 
drives, I have a Pioneer DVD±RW and 
Lite-On DVD-ROM, all powered with an 
Antec TrueBLUE480 power supply. 

I've had a massive Inwin Q500 case 
gathering dust in my closet for almost six 
years. The sheer size of this case made it 
ideal for modding. After dismantling the 
case and wet-sanding all the beige paint 
from it, I began to operate. The main 
problem with this case was that it just 
didn't have enough holes in it, so it was 
time to make more. Using my trusty jig- 
saw and Dremel, I cut a design in each 
side panel that was something like 50% 
planned and 80% random. Yes, I failed 
math class. My goal was to draw attention 
toward specific areas within the case. 

Because the front bezel wasn't exactly 
aesthetically pleasing, I brought it to life 




by cutting out a hole for a 120mm intake 
fan. I had to work slowly as I was worried 
that the plastic may have become brittle 
with age. 

With my surgical work completed, it 
was time to commence the bodywork. 
After much deliberation, I finally decided 
to use a color shifting paint by Dupli- 
Color called Mirage. Mirage is sold in 
kits, each containing three steps; a black 
base coat, followed by a color-shifting 
coat, and sealed off with a clear coat. It 
took three kits and seven coats of each to 
get the best finish possible. Depending on 
the lighting and angle, the paint color 
shifts among purple, green, and magenta. 
However, just painting the outside of the 




Tech Specs 



MOBO 


ABIT IC7-Max3 


CPU 


Intel P4 3.0c Prescott 


RAM 


1GB Corsair XMS PC3200 


Video 


ATI Radeon 9700 
Pro 128MB 


HDD 


1 x Western Digital 74GB 
Raptor; 1 x Western Digital 
120GB with 8MB cache 


CD/DVD 


Pioneer DVD±RW; 
Lite-On DVD 


PSU 


Antec TmeBlue 480W 


Other 


Windows XP Pro 



case wasn't enough. I painted the inside 
of it white and added two purple cathode 
lights and two white cathode lights. The 
end result was a glow so bright that it 
could almost give you a sunburn. 

This case originally attracted me because 
it had a unique section on the top covered 
by a sliding panel. This made for an ideal 
location for the radiator. The radiator I am 
using is actually a heater core from a '77 
Pontiac Bonneville. I pulled a string or two 
to have a friend of mine who works in a 
sheet metal shop fabricate a stainless steel 
base for the mount, creating a barrier so 
the radiator wouldn't share the same air as 
the case. It was simple work to mount two 
120mm variable speed Enermax fans on a 
custom-made acrylic shroud above the 
radiator. I mounted them to draw air 
through the radiator and through the vents 
on the sides of the top section. 

For the water reservoir and mount, I 
was unable to find any stock setups that 
really caught my eye. In a rare stroke of 
luck, I was able to find a local shop that 
had what I needed. After some explaining, 
they fabricated what I needed: a reservoir 
that was 15 inches tall and 3 inches in 
diameter with half-inch barbs. Using a fire 
extinguisher mount and a few rivets, I cre- 
ated a home for my newly made reservoir. 
I filled it with a mixture of 8% Zerex 
antifreeze to prevent corrosion and 92% 
distilled water. The case stands 28 inches 
tall and weighs more than 80 pounds. 
After almost 100 hours of work, I finally 
had my first water-cooling setup. 




166 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Gas Tank PC 



Mod by Clint Mackay 



Ideas for mods are easy to come up 
with, but how do you build them? 
And if you're going to build one, 
how can you make sure it'll be cool? As 
far as design is concerned, computers are 
still in the '40s. Even some of the coolest 
mods are still a box. My modding partner 
Jason and I decided to make a PC mod- 
eled after a motorcycle's gas tank. 

Our project began as a block of wood, 
which we hand-carved into our initial 
design. We then used two resin molds to 
create the sheets of plastic that made up 



the tank. After removing the molds, we 
welded the sides together, trimmed the 
excess plastic, and cut the front opening. 

Next we skim-coated the case with 
body putty, let it dry, sanded the body, 
and gave it a coat of primer. We drilled 
some vent holes in the back and under- 
neath the fuel caps for heat ventilation 
and fan placement. 

When the time came to start paint- 
ing, Jason worked his magic with the 
airbrush and created a custom flame job 
for the tank. Let's face it: a flame paint 



job is about as cool as it gets, and Jason 
has that look hands down. He applied a 
layer of clearcoat for that show-stopper 
sparkle, and then we added the chrome 
gas caps as the final touch. 

I built the computer and installed 
the hardware in the case mounted to a 
molded belly pan. We also recorded a 
custom chopper sound that roars to life 
when the computer starts. I have also 
built another gas tank PC using the 
MEGA 865 with an Intel P4 with Hy- 
per-Threading, dual-channel DDR400, 
and a SATA hard drive. Jason also creat- 
ed one of his custom paint jobs for that 
case. Our next tank projects will use 
other ITX cases. 




Tech Specs 



MOBO 


N/A 


CPU 


Intel CPU 


RAM 


PC2700 


Video 


N/A 


HDD 


200GB SATA 


CD/DVD 


DVD burner 




Fueler Case 



Mod by Greg "Fueler" Barry 



This case may not bring a tear 
to your eye, but it sure as heck 
brought tears of joy to mine 
when I finally finished it after five months 
of work. 

The case is made from half-inch square 
steel tubing. I hacked the motherboard 
tray and drive bay from an old Antec case. 
I painted the case with a base coat and 
clear coat of paint and then covered it 




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with a dual-layer of Plexiglas (5/8-inch 
clear sheet with a 1 /8-inch dark blue sheet 
sandwiched together) . 

The mobo tray is designed so that the 
entire motherboard assembly, including the 
video card, rear fans, and the power supply 
can slide out the back on roller bearing rails 
for ease of assembly. I junked all of the 
power wires (except for the ATX connec- 
tors), fan, and audio wires in favor of strate- 
gically located power and signal dis- 
tribution blocks. This kept the wire 
clutter to a minimum, and I was 
still able to change anything with- 
out having to disassemble and 
rewire the entire case. 

I paid a lot of attention to the 
case's airflow. I spaced the hard 
drives for maximum airflow, aided 
by the exhaust fan for the video 



card. I installed the PSU upside-down so 
that it could draw cool air from outside the 
case. The net result is that the case never 
exceeds the ambient room temperature. 

The CPU is OCed from 1.8GHz to 
2.8GHz at 1.95V. The video card is 
OCed to 538/329, and the CPU temps 
run from -30 to -26 degrees Celsius under 
full load depending on the ambient room 
temp. (Full load is running Prime 95 for 
eight or 10 hours.) 



Tech Specs 



MOBO 


ABIT NF7S mobo 


CPU 


AMD Athlon XP 2500+ 


RAM 


1GB Corsair RAM 


Video 


ATI 9600 Pro 


HDD 


2x Western Digital 36GB 
Raptors (RAID 0)/2x 
Western Digital 80GB drives 
with 8MB cache 


Optical 


Samsung CD-RW/ Samsung 
DVD-R dual format 


Other 


Prometia Mach I Phase- 
Change system/ Zalman Fan 
speed controller 



CPU / PCModder 167 



Stormbringer 



Mod by Keith "Hobbes" Nolen 



Stormbringer is a completely cus- 
tom computer case that I have 
been designing and building for 
the last two years. The theme is based 
on the powerful semisentient sword 
"Stormbringer" that Michael Moorcock 
wrote about in a series of fantasy books 
and short stories. For this project I used 
my knowledge of building cases from my 
few previous attempts and my woodwork- 
ing skills to create the design you see here. 
The case started as a maple board, which I 
cut into the numerous detailed pieces that 
make up the case. The case legs, sides, 
and bottom are all hollowed out and cov- 
ered with Modders Mesh to help hide the 
system wiring. Overall, I've made proba- 
bly close to 1,000 individually designed 
pieces for the case, and the work has 
spanned untold hours. This is actually my 
second attempt at the project as the earli- 




est version of the case was destroyed in a 
power tool mishap that sadly enough also 
cost me my right thumb tip. But being a 
dedicated woodworker, I started the pro- 
ject anew and kept my remaining digits 
out of harm's way. 

Wood was simply the easiest material 
that I could work with to make the case, 
but I didn't want the finished piece to 
look like a kitchen cabinet. So I coated 
the wood with epoxy, sanded it smooth, 
and painted it to produce the finish that 
I had planned on. The paint consists of a 
dark blue that I sprayed with a midcoat 
of Mirage "Ice" color to make it sparkle. 




I painted the highlight areas with dark 
red, white, white and red crackle, or gold 
leaf paint. I incorporated themes from 
the Moorcock books throughout the case 
in many obvious and some not so obvi- 
ous designs, such as the eight arrows of 
Chaos on the front CD stealth and the 
ruby ring on the demonic fingers of the 
PSU cover. The legs of the case have let- 
tering and artwork that I cut into the 
wood and are lit from behind by strands 
of LEDs. I frosted the top acrylic rods, 
which are designed to be lit by an LED 
mounted below them. 

The two years of work have finally paid 
off, and the project is practically complete. 
I have to finish installing the hardware, 
the wiring for the lighting, and the tubing 
for the HnO system, and Stormbringer will 
be up and running. The hours required 
for a project like this are staggering, and I 
know there is no way the project would 
have ever reached this point without the 
encouragement and support of both my 
wife and my fellow modders at the 
www.gruntville.com forums. A 




Tech Specs 



MOBO 


ABIT Fatality AA8XE 


CPU 


Intel 3.4 Extreme Edition CPU 


RAM 


1GB of Corsair XMS2-5400 




DDR2 memory 


Video 


Chaintech 6600 GT 


HDD 


Two Hitachi Deskstar 120GB 




serial hard drives (set to Raid 0) 


CD/DVD 


TDK DVD burner 


PSU 


600W Enermax Noisetaker 




PSU 


Other 


H 2 system is composed of a 




DTek heatercore, a Swiftech 




MCP650 pump, an Innovatek 




reservoir, and some snazzy 




new Polar Flo blocks for the 




CPU and GPU 



168 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



See What You've 
Been Missing 

Cut Fancy, Complicated Case Windows 



Case windows are an overlooked 
area of PC modding. Certainly, 
countless modders have in- 
stalled circular, oval, or rectangular win- 
dows in their cases, but these are usually 
simply a way to view the "real" mods 
inside the computer, whether it's a cold- 
cathode light system or a Lego village 
nestled between the power supply and 
video card. 

But it doesn't have to be this way; 
you can make your system's window the 
main attraction. By etching an image in 
the window or cutting the computer 
case's side panel to create a silhouette 
image, the window itself can be the cen- 
terpiece of your computer's case, a mas- 
terpiece worthy of oohs and aahs. 

"Do-it-yourself modders shine do- 
ing intricate water-cooler systems, auto- 
mobile paint, and so on," says Chris 
Francy, owner of Xoxide.com, which 
sells computer case modification sup- 
plies. But windows, he says, are often 
an afterthought. 

There are generally three parts to cre- 
ating your own PC case window, any or 
all of which you might implement in 
your design. First, there's cutting the 
case to create a space for the window. 
The shape might be a complex image 
that will show through the window as a 
silhouette, or something as basic as a 
circle or square. Second is cutting out 
the window itself from a large piece of 
acrylic. Finally, you can etch an image 
into the acrylic. 

Modders generally use acrylic, rather 
than glass, windows. Acrylic is lighter and 
sturdier than glass. In addition, it is less 
expensive than tempered glass and easier 
to etch. 



Hand-Cut The Case 

First, we'll look at cutting an opening 
in the case. Most windows are cut into 
the left side of the PC case because 
that's where the most interesting view is. 
(A window on the right side would show 
only the tray that secures the mother- 
board.) You can also install a window on 
top of the case, perhaps between the 
power supply and the CD-ROM drive, 
for a top-down view into the computer. 
Although we'll assume that you're doing 
the left-side panel, the techniques dis- 
cussed here will work for windows in 
any location. 

The most common way to cut the 
panel or top of a PC case is the hands- 
on method: using a combination of 
power tools and metal files to create 
your work of art. 

A jigsaw and a power rotary cutting 
tool, such as the ever-popular Dremel, are 
the most useful tools for cutting. If you 
can, have both tools at your disposal. "It's 
good to have the choice between the two," 
says Nick Curtiss, owner of the modder 
Web site CrazyPC ( www.crazypc.com ). 
"If you had to go with one or the other, 
it's a hard choice. For straight lines and 
arcing curves, a jigsaw works a lot better. 
The Dremel, withlittle cutting wheels, is 
best for highly detailed work, but they are 
hard to cut with. The Dremel might be 
more useful overall, but those cutting 
wheels can be tricky. I've seem them skip 
because of the high RPM, and that's when 
mistakes happen." 

In addition to the power tools, Curtiss 
recommends using a set of small files for 
detail work. "I use a hobby file set; the 
files have different shapes to get into the 
nooks and crannies." 



Carefully consider the canvas that 
you'll be using — that is, the type of metal 
the PC case is made from. Aluminum is 
much easier to work with than steel. 
"Steel cases are a lot harder to cut and 
more difficult to touch up afterwards," 
Curtiss says. 

Although the results can be worth it, 
cutting by hand takes time. Aaron 
Daugherty ( tokos.eskapoza.com ) used 
two rotary cutters, a Ryobi multitool 
and a Roto-Zip, to create a unique 
opening for his custom case. The 
process took about 80 hours. "Cutting 
this design with the Roto-Zip caused the 
metal to heat up and warp as I was 
working, making for slow and precari- 
ous progress," he says. 

How do you get the image onto the 
side of a PC case for cutting? You could 
draw directly on the case in pencil or cut 
out a cardboard template and trace the 
design on the case panel. For the best 
results, though, Curtiss suggests not 
drawing or cutting directly on the metal, 
which can lead to scrapes and other 
damage. "We use a contact paper that's 
got almost the tackiness of a Post-It. It 
comes in big rolls; we roll it out onto 
the whole panel and do the drawing on 
that," he says. 

An alternate method is to cover the 
PC case panel in painter's tape, a type of 
easily removable masking tape. "You can 
put that on in strips and do your draw- 
ing on that," he says. Whatever method 
you choose, be sure that the drawing 
surface is sticky enough that it won't 
move during drawing or cutting. 

Tracing paper can be a useful tool 
for getting the image onto the case panel 
for cutting. If you've designed an image 



CPU / PC Modder 169 



using a drawing application, for instance, 
print out the image at full size. Trace the 
image with pencil onto the tracing paper. 
Then, place that on top of the computer 
panel's protective surface and rub the 
tracing paper to transfer the image. 

It doesn't matter which side of the 
panel that you place the image on, or 
which side of the panel you cut. If you 
cut from the inside, remember to reverse 
the image. Either way, make sure the 
outside of the case is protected; if the 
panel rubs against your working surface, 
you can scratch the paint or otherwise 
mar your handiwork. 

When you're through cutting, the 
edges of the case opening will be sharp. 
Use a metal file to deburr the edges so 
they're smooth. 

Laser Surgery 

For creating more intricate or geomet- 
ric designs, some modders bring out the 
big guns: a powerful laser that will slice 
right through the aluminum or steel of a 
PC case. A laser-cut design can be "more 
intricate than you can possibly get with 
hand tools," Xoxide. corn's Francy says. 

Of course, laser cutting isn't better 
for every modding situation. CrazyPC- 
. corn's Curtiss prefers hand-cutting tools 
for highly detailed work, and for organic 
images such as of a person or a tree. 
Laser cutting is preferable for geometric 
designs where small flaws would be 
more noticeable. 

Laser cutters can do two tricks that 
are of particular interest to case mod- 
ders. First, they can slice with perfect 
accuracy though a PC's metal panel. 
Second, they can etch designs into an 
acrylic window. Etching creates shallow 
crevices in the plastic sheet that you can 
form into any design imaginable. 

Check your Yellow Pages for a local 
business that does laser cutting. (Search 
for metal works shops and fabrication.) 
If you don't live in a metropolitan area, 
chances are you won't find one. In that 
case, find a business online that can do 
the laser cutting for you. You'll have to 
ship your case's side panel or the acrylic 
sheet to them, but it should only cost a 
few dollars. 






Aaron Daugherty created this angel motif opening in about 80 hours. He drew the image directly 
on the panel then drilled pilot holes in the areas that he wanted to remove with the Roto-Zip. In the 
second picture, he switched to the Dremel tool for the finer work. Because of the thin metal strips 
in the design, "it became really tricky to keep the piece together while working on it." Finally, take a 
look at the finished product in the bottom photo. 



170 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Because a computer controls the laser, 
you can create and send a digital file 
describing the design. Many businesses 
that offer laser cutting can accept your 
design in a variety of file formats, 
including EPS, Adobe Illustrator, and 
Corel. Before you invest hours and 
hours designing your case or acrylic 
engraving, be sure that the company you 
hire can read the file format that you 
plan to use. 

Be sure to use a vector-based drawing 
program to create your masterpiece. 
"Most places are able to use Adobe 
Illustrator, and a lot of other programs 
support exporting to that format," 
Curtiss says. A key to creating a design 
for laser cutting is to not cross lines: 
Think in terms of drawing a silhouette 
or carving a jack-o-lantern. 

Also talk to the company about the 
type of curves that will look best, which 
can depend on the capabilities of their 
software and cutting machine. 'As long 
as you stick with Bezier curves and 
straight lines you should be OK. More 
complex curves don't translate well," 
Francy says. 

The biggest drawback to laser cutting 
a case panel is the cost, which can be 
prohibitively expensive. Although the 
exact price for your project will depend 
on how intricate your design is, many 
computer case laser jobs cost around 
$200. Firms usually charge based on the 
amount of laser time ($1 per minute is 
typical) plus a setup fee. "Doing your 
name might take five minutes. An 
American eagle coasting over the sky 
could take an hour," says Mike Ryan, 
owner of Ryan Screen Printing ( ryan 
screenprinting.com ), a company that 
does custom laser cutting. 

There's another option for cutting 
case windows: water jet cutting. This 
technology uses a high-powered, com- 
puter-controlled stream of water to slice 
though material. Cutter beware: There 
are two types of water jet, regular and 
abrasive. Abrasive cutters use water plus 
additional abrasives to cut through 
thicker, stronger materials, while regular 
water jets (without abrasives) are limited 
to softer materials. A regular water jet 



could cut though a thin aluminum 
panel, but not a steel one, and could 
leave ragged edges. Abrasive water jet 
cutting does have some advantages com- 
pared to laser cutting. In particular, it 
can cut highly reflective materials and 
can be less expensive. If a machine shop 
in your area offers abrasive water jet cut- 
ting, it may be a less expensive option to 
laser cutting. 

Cutting The Acrylic 

You can use the same tools — both 
power tools and laser — to cut a case 
window from a larger sheet of acrylic. 
But instead of bothering, many modders 
simply buy precut acrylic sheets from 
online stores specializing in case mods. 
They're available in many basic shapes, 
sizes, and colors. Even if you're a hard- 
core, do-it-yourself PC case modder, 



there's no shame in buying a precut 
window for your case because cutting it 
yourself can be more expensive and 
doesn't add any value. 

Most acrylic sheets come from the 
factory with sticky paper coating both 
sides. If you'll be cutting the acrylic 
yourself, don't remove this protective 
coating until after you cut the window 
in your PC. Even if you've chosen a pre- 
cut window, it's a good idea to leave the 
paper on for as long as possible to keep 
it scratch-free. 

Come Upstairs & See My Etchings 

If cutting an intricate design in metal 
doesn't suit your style or ability level, 
you can still create a wonderful window 
by etching the acrylic itself. Window 
etching is perhaps the most straight- 
forward part of modding a PC case 





Bret Daly, editor of moddershq.net, created this Nightmare 
Before Christmas etching using a Dremel tool. The art is 
illuminated by four high-intensity LEDs. 



CPU / PC Modder 171 




Bret Daly also created this raven window etching, a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem. 



window. Simply use a rotary cutter such 
as a Dremel to dig a fraction of an inch 
into the plastic, which changes the 
material from clear to opaque. 

Etching a case window can be a good 
place to start for nervous first-time 
experimenters. From a financial stand- 
point, creating a window etching is the 
most forgiving window modding tweak. 
If you manage to ruin the acrylic sheet, 
you're only out a few dollars for a 
replacement window. Most modders can 
live with that. 

You can draw the design on the 
acrylic using a grease pencil or trace the 
image from a graphic located under- 
neath the window. Then go to work 
with the cutting tool. You can etch on 
either the inside or the outside of the 
case window. If you put the image on 



the inner side of the acrylic sheet, which 
will create a smooth feel on the outside 
of the window, don't forget to reverse 
the image. 

To make the etched design stand out 
in a darkened room, you can drill holes 
in the computer-facing side of the 
acrylic, and install LEDs in those holes. 
If the LEDs are located behind the 
metal edge of the case, you won't be 
able to see them directly, but they will 
brilliantly illuminate the etched design. 
You can use white LEDs, color LEDs, 
or a combination to get the perfect 
effect. Although the best placement and 
number of lights will depend on your 
particular window design, many mod- 
ders find the top and bottom, or left and 
right edges, of the acrylic are the best 
positions for LEDs. Create divots in the 



edge of the acrylic that fit the heads of 
the LEDs snugly and then mount them 
in place. Use epoxy to affix the LEDs 
in place, and then connect them to a 
power source. 

"We have done cases where we've 
etched a design in acrylic and cut several 
small holes in which we embed high- 
intensity LEDs to light it up," Ryan says. 
"We use 3/16-inch acrylic, it's a real 
strong material." 

Installing The Window 

You have the window, you have the 
opening, now you just need to put the 
two together. 

When installing a case window in a 
simple circular or round-corner rectangle 
opening, modders typically use a flexible 
rubber gasket between the inside edge of 



172 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



nt* 



v 




This case panel's geometric design was 
created with a laser cutter. 

the case panel and the acrylic window. 
The rubber molding grips the edge of 
the panel and the window, holding them 
tightly together. 

Because holes created with electric saw, 
rotary cutter, or other hand tools can be 
razor sharp, the molding is also important 
to keep people from getting hurt (and 
keeping blood off of your custom case). 
This system doesn't work with intricate 
openings, however. The rubber molding 
requires rounded corners; the molding is 
too thick to follow tight angles. 

The solution is to use acrylic that is 
larger than the dimensions of the open- 
ing in the case, and affix it inside the 
case panel. You'll need a way to hold the 
window to the side panel, just behind 
the hole. The most common option, 
according to Francy, is surprisingly low- 
tech: epoxy. Just put some of the sticky 
stuff between the inside wall of the case 
and the acrylic, and it will stick. This 
provides a clean, finished look, but it 
may not be possible to remove the 
acrylic sheet once it is affixed. Be careful 
not to use too much, or the epoxy will 
seep out from under the metal and be 
visible on the window. 

Curtiss recommends using 3M Ad- 
hesive Sheets, a type of clear plastic that 
is sticky on both sides. Adhere one side 
to the inside of the PC case before you 
do any cutting. After the cutting is 
done, peel away the protective cover on 
the other side of the adhesive sheet, and 
then stick the acrylic sheet to it. In the 
end result, even the thinnest strips of 



metal will be affixed firmly to the win- 
dow, without any rattling or flapping. 
"That's the nicest, cleanest way to do 
it," he says. 

Another choice is to use heavy-duty 
Velcro on the inside of the computer 
case and acrylic window. It is simple to 
do and makes it easy to swap case win- 
dows on a whim. However, it won't pro- 
vide the tightest fit and will let dust in 
and noise out of your computer. 

The factory-installed windows in 
"premodded" cases are usually bolted 
on. Lag bolts, available in any hardware 
store, provide a similar smooth, finished 
look. This is another option for the do- 
it-yourself modder, but not an easy one. 
You'll have to drill carefully aligned 
holes in the case and plastic and cut the 
bolts to the right length. "Bolting is not 
something people typically do on their 
own," Francy says. 

Yet another option is to use a rivet 
gun, available in hardware stores, to 
affix the acrylic sheet to the case. To use 
rivets, drill holes though the PC's case 
panel and acrylic window, then insert 
"pop rivets" into the hole. Next you'll 
use the rivet gun. Pull the trigger tightly 
to snap the two materials together. The 
rivets will be visible, but they're avail- 
able in different colors so you may be 
able to incorporate them into the design 
of the case. 

Remember, if you're installing a win- 
dow with rubber molding, the acrylic 
sheet should have a just-slightly smaller 
diameter than the opening. If you're 
installing the window behind the open- 
ing, the acrylic should exceed the 
dimensions of the hole by an inch or 
more, depending on how you will be 
mounting it. 

Your Window To The World 

If you need more inspiration, explore 
the Web's computer case mod galleries, 
which display wonderful examples of 
window dressing. Start with www.cool 
casegallery.net , the forums at www 
.twistedmods.com , and www.modthe 
box.com . 

As you dream of the modifications that 
will turn your PC case into an astounding 



showpiece of light and color, don't forget 
about the window. That pane of acrylic 
doesn't have to be merely a window onto 
the great-looking technology inside the 
computer, it can be a showpiece itself. 
With the proper tools, an investment of 
time, and a good dose of creative spark, 
you can create a case window that is a 
unique masterpiece. CPU 

by Kevin Savetz 



Care & Feeding 
Of An Acrylic 
Window 

Installing a window means clean- 
ing and maintaining that window. 
If the windows in your living space 
are covered in grime or spider 
webs, perhaps caring for a window- 
ed PC case will be too much of a 
commitment. Then again, hard-core 
geeks who spend more time looking 
at the computer than out the win- 
dow may keep their PC windows in 
better condition. 

First and foremost, you'll want to 
keep it clean and free of abrasions. 
Acrylic can scratch, so treat your 
window with care. Swirl and scratch 
remover, available at your local auto 
parts store, can make minor marks 
and nicks disappear and add a like- 
new sheen to the window. 

To clean the window, pour warm 
water onto a lint-free cloth (such as 
for cleaning eyeglasses). Or, use a 
product specifically meant for clean- 
ing acrylic. Never use any product 
that contains ammonia or alcohol to 
clean an acrylic window: They can 
permanently fog it. This rules out 
most household glass cleaners. 

No one wants a window that 
looks in on dustbunnyville, and dust 
loves to collect inside PC cases. 
You'll need to open the case from 
time to time to clear it of dust bun- 
nies and other detritus that your 
system's cooling fans pull in. ▲ 



CPU / PC Modder 173 



The Paint Booth 

Advanced Tips For Fantastic Finishes 



I get a lot of questions about the 
techniques I use to make cases. In 
this article I'll cover some of the 
questions that I answer on a regular basis 
and let you in on some tips that will help 
your next case cutting and painting pro- 
ject go a little more smoothly. 



Q 



What is the best way to make 
precise cuts in metal? 



A There's no doubt that laser and 
water-jet cutters are the most pre- 
cise tools for cutting metal cases, 
but when you consider that these machines 
cost in excess of $10,000, it's unlikely that 
most modders have them sitting in their 
garages. As such, renting table time is the 
preferred option; you can most likely find a 
local shop that will do the cutting for you. 
After material costs, set up fees, and table 
time rental you are looking at around $500 
to cut a project. It obviously costs less if 
you are doing a very simple or small pro- 
ject, but you can cut price even more if you 
do your own CAD work. 

Having said this, I rarely use laser or 
water jet cutting tools unless I have an in- 
tricate design that requires extremely low 
tolerances; I am much happier with a sim- 
pler tool in hand (as is my wallet). I find 
that a jigsaw, some files, and a selection of 
hole saws work great for most jobs. 



Q 



When I cut aluminum, I often 
find that my blade works great 
for a while but then I have a 
hard time finishing the cut. 
What am I doing wrong? 



A You're probably not doing any- 
thing wrong. Aluminum is a soft 
metal and cuts easily, but it's pretty 
common for small particles to get stuck on 



the blade, binding it up and making cut- 
ting difficult on big projects. Blade binding 
frequently occurs when you use a scroll saw 
and occasionally with a jigsaw, but the solu- 
tion is simple, and you can find it at your 
local hardware store. Cutting fluid will help 
keep your blade clean and well-lubricated 
and will also keep down the friction heat 
buildup, which is the leading cause of blade 
breakage. You can usually find cutting fluid 
specifically designed for use with alumi- 
num, but if all you can find is "metal" cut- 
ting fluid go ahead and pick some up, it 
works just as well. 



Q 



Where do you get case parts 
such as back planes and hard 
drive trays? 



A I have yet to find a place where I 
can buy the kinds of parts you 
refer to, but like you I sometimes 
need a piece of a case, such as a drive bay, 
to make my project go smoothly. I keep a 
few old cases and projects on hand that I 
can scavenge from for this very reason, but 



sometimes I still have to go looking for a 
part. That's when I like to hit local garage 
sales for old and/or broken systems. I have 
picked up flood-damaged or fried systems 
for as little as $5, some of which still had 
working parts in them. Another option is 
dumpster diving; the IT departments of 
some large companies occasionally trash 
their broken stuff, and it's not uncommon 
to find a gutted system chassis sitting out 
by the dumpster for the taking. For smaller 
parts, such as motherboard standoffs and 
screws, I hit up the local repair and upgrade 
shops, as they have plenty of such items on 
hand and generally have no problem giving 
me a big baggie of assorted fasteners (or 
selling me some for next to nothing). 



Q 



How do I cut and tap plastic and 
polycarbonate? 



A Polycarbonate (Lexan), acrylic, and 
most other types of plastics are easy 
to cut but sometimes require spe- 
cial tools to get the job done. A company 
called Craftics ( www.craftics.com ) has a 
line of drill bits called Plas-Drill and jigsaw 
blades made specifically for acrylic and 
polycarbonate plastic; these tools resist 
cracking when cutting and are designed not 
to stick to the plastic and bind. If you use 
standard drill bits and fine-toothed jigsaw 
blades, dip them in water before cutting to 
ameliorate such problems. 




Craftics, Inc. 

Tools and Accessories for Working with Plastic 

Welcome to Craftics Inc.'s online catalog. 

Select from the following product 
categories: 



Internal ipse is Is; 

Actylle Hinges and Plastic Hinge? 

H (Minis & Saw Blades 

Plastic Cutting Tools and Scrapers 

fitfhcjr.-ts Applicants nndTaps 

Buffi ng and Pcli ahlngTanln 

Ptwtta Cleaners and Plastic Palish 
DM Bits for Plastics 
Router Bits (or Plasllcs 

Acrylic Shapes. 

-■:i /lit Component* 

Literature Holder; * Accessories 

AcyrlisEstiuBloro 

Hooks & Hook He Id* it 
3 ;. :l : and Tub< - 
Turntables. Lock? S Hasps 

Eyewear & Other Misc. Accessories 



crimes me. maniffacwras ana cisMbuMiTi^w in a lacinorlii far plastic 
fabrication, especially acrylic fabrication. Tha company spa cializa a in products usad 
tarwotklngwldi acrylic. Indudlrnu plgstk iiittinyiimi* plastic clean** and plastic 

polish, soltrerlcemeril [acrylic glir»[ and other acrylic arlliesit'es, as well as solvent 

cement applrcatora BHid syringes, More fabrication tool* Include lieaten tot bending 
rry Ik. buffing wheels an rl compounds, acrylic drill bits [drill tails- for plastic |. 




I UN 









acrylic Glue.. 



ssoriesnnfl* mm acrylic Nnj^', .irvi y.wn pn*ric hinnes ta a large- variety el 
HnoPB. hasps, door catches, hooks. rsYolvinrj turntables I plastic lazy sussnal. and 
cam locks. Craftics also carries a selection o( acrylic lubes, reds, and other 

extrusions such as Z-bar and l)-channe I. along with acrylic cubes, acrylic bills. 
acrylic half hall*, and oHisr acrylic shapes. Craftics also supplies variojs acrylic 
displays and point- of- pure hate displays. 



Craftics makes a line of 
drill bits and saw blades 
designed specifically for 
cutting, drilling, and 
tapping plastic. 



174 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



When tapping screw holes, I find that 
using a drill on a low speed and dipping the 
tap in water before each attempt makes for 
the best results; the water also helps 
prevent plastic from sticking to the 
tap and fouling the threads. 



Q 




I want to paint my case. What 
is the best way to sand and 
prime the surface? 



A In my experience, it is easier and 
quicker to not strip the case to 
bare metal when working with a 
prepainted case. Instead I use 400-grit sand- 
paper to wet-sand the paint until smooth 
and then apply three or four coats of prim- 
er. I then lightly spray the surface with some 
cheap, black spray paint. This speckles the 
primer and gives me a guide so I know 
when I have sanded the entire surface. Next 
I wet-sand some more (again, with 400-grit 
sandpaper), let the surface dry, and sand 
very lightly with 1,200-grit paper. Note that 
if you sand though the primer at any time, 
you'll have to start over, so it's best to take 
your time and sand by hand rather than 
using a power sander. When finished, you'll 
have a smooth surface to paint on. 



Q 



Do you ever use decals? 



A Yes, I use custom-cut decals in 
many projects, especially when I 
am sandblasting or painting on alu- 
minum or acrylic. Using window appliques 
is a quick and inexpensive way to give a 
window an etched look, and it's hard for 
many to tell the difference between an 
applique and an etched window. You can 
also use them for decoration and design ele- 
ments, such as tribal flames. 

There are many techniques to applying 
decals, but I like a technique I learned from 
a window timer many years ago. Start by 
cleaning the surface in question with a 
clean cloth and some rubbing alcohol, and 
then mist the surface with a spray bottle 
containing a mixture of 10 parts water to 
one part dishwasher detergent. Apply the 
decal where you want it and use a squeegee 
or credit card to push the water mixture 



With the right equipment, such as this Iwata 
airbrush and compressor, you can give your 
cases professional-grade paint jobs. 



and air out from beneath it. The advantage 
to using decals instead of paint is that you 
can remove them if you want and they are a 
lot cheaper than a custom paint job. 



Q 



Have you ever airbrushed a 
case? 



AAirbrushing is a skill that takes 
years to master, and I have only 
recently started to use it in my 
work. But I am lucky to be able to work 
with an airbrush master, and under his tute- 
lage I have gained a solid grasp of the basics. 
If you're serious about getting into airbrush- 
ing, I'd recommend investing in a good, 
quality airbrush and compressor. I use an 
Iwata ( www.iwata-medea.com) Revolution 
CR gravity feed brush with an Iwata Smart 
Jet air compressor, a good combination that 
is affordable enough for beginners. I use 
Testors ( www.testors.com ) Model Master 
paint and thinners, which are essentially the 
same as the paint used in automotive body- 
work but are more affordable, as you can 
buy them in smaller quantities. Airbrushing 
is primarily for accenting and high-detail 
work, but of course you can use it to paint 
an entire case — especially if you use a brush 
such as Iwata's Eclipse G6. CPU 

by Gareth Powell 



Tip Of The Day: 

The Many Uses Of Masking Tape 

The principle of masking tape is simple; prevent paint from getting on surfaces that 
you don't want it on. If you have ever had to suffer through any kind of interior 
decorating, chances are you already have a firm grasp on the concept. But masking 
tape is one of the modder's best friends, with several applications and uses. 

For example, sticking masking tape to the bottom of a jigsaw guide can prevent acci- 
dental scratches while cutting a hole in a side panel. Masking tape gives you a good sur- 
face to draw out your cuts on, and at the same time it prevents metal shavings from 
damaging the surface you are cutting. Masking tape is also great for organizing small 
parts; when taking apart things with many small screws in them, you can organize them 
by size and stick them down in groups. 

Fine line masking tape is the best way to 
get crisp, clean edges when putting a design 
on a surface. You can use fine line to mask 
off your design and then apply regular 
masking tape to the whole area; using a 
scalpel or razor blade, you can lightly cut 
into the fine line tape and remove the excess 
masking tape. You can then paint your 
design without worrying about overspray. 

Taking the time to properly mask your 
project will save time and prevent mistakes, 
and you can have fun sticking balls of tape 
to family members and pets while you wait 
for your last coat of paint to dry. ▲ 




There are many kinds and sizes of 
masking tape; the right roll can 
make your next project go much 
more smoothly. 



CPU / PC Modder 175 






JUST FOR FUN 






It's In The Cables 



Wake Up & Wire Right 



Don't make the Great Newbie 
Cable Mistake. You know the 
one; you figure out the cost 
of your PC mods down to the tax and 
shipping, then realize once all the parts 
arrive that you didn't budget for any 
cables. Sadder but wiser, you put the 
computer together with the depressing 
grey ribbon cables that came with your 
motherboard, preparing to keep the rig 
out of your buddies' sight until your 
next paycheck. 

In addition to connecting all your 
drives to your motherboard, cables also 
give the inside of your case its per- 
sonality. If people see a multicol- 
ored spaghetti platter with grey 
ribbon accents when they look 
inside your PC, they'll think you 
had your little brother slap a com- 
puter together for you. 

On the other hand, consider a 
strikingly clean interior with a 
few bold, color-coordinated, thin 
cables and everything else tucked 
neatly out of the way. Onlookers 
will assume you spent an equal 
amount of care on part selection, 
assembly, and optimization. First 
impressions count for a lot when 
you build or mod a PC. Don't 
embolden potential gaming foes; make 
them wary of you instead. 

There are only a few major types of 
data cables inside a desktop or SFF 
computer, so it's not hard to choose a 
set that will really wake up your PC's 
aesthetics. We'll talk about the most 
important ones here, and whether 
there's any truth to the old saw that cer- 
tain cables can boost performance. 

Cables Of Choice 

There are some general guidelines 
for buying any type of cable. Namely, 



double-check to make sure that you buy 
the right type. Also, don't buy a longer 
cable than you'll need. Super-long cables 
are not only more susceptible to signal- 
ing errors than shorter ones, but they 
also add unnecessary cost and airflow 
obstruction to your project. If you find 
your mod can't continue without a 36- 
inch EIDE cable, for instance, you'd best 
rethink the entire layout. 

Here's a look at the options that are 
available today, along with a quick 
refresher on where things stand on the 
interface front. 




Shorty 
ribbon 



cables, like this UV-reactive SATA line and grey EIDE 
. may fit perfectly in some spots. 



SATA. Serial ATA is the interface of 
choice between new hard drives and 
motherboards. Its advantages and signal- 
ing differences from EIDE are well doc- 
umented elsewhere, but what concerns 
us here is its cabling. 

As desktop PCs got faster, they started 
to run hotter. Soon, only low-wattage 
systems could run for long without at 
least two fans passing air into and out of 
the case. It didn't take a brain surgeon to 
see that the typical, bulky ribbon cables 
used for hard drives, floppy drives, and 
optical drives could block the airflow 



from the parts that most needed a steady 
flow of cool air. 

SATA's data cable tackled this prob- 
lem. Instead of a 2-inch-wide EIDE rib- 
bon or an even broader SCSI cable, 
SATA uses a slightly thicker conduit 
that's only a quarter of an inch wide. The 
upshot is that case fans can blow right 
past a SATA cable, although it's still a 
good idea to route your cables out of 
each fan's way. 

SATA's data cable uses an L-shaped 
connector that's similar to but a little 
shorter than its power connector. (Some 
SATA drives have both SATA and com- 
mon 4-pin Molex power jacks, but you 
should use one type or the other, not 
both.) Fortunately, drives using SATA, 
the SATA II subset of SATA 1.0, the 
SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) server inter- 
face, and even SATA 3Gbps all employ 
the same data cable. However, some 
SATA hard drives can use cables with 
more secure connectors, as in 
the case of some Western Digital 
drives and cables. 

A few elements of bling are 
emerging for modders using SATA 
drives. One is the red, ultraviolet- 
light reactive cable we bought 
for $9.99 at FrozenCPU.com 
(model number GC6AUR). It's 
just 6 inches long, which is more 
than long enough for the layout of 
our Lian-Li PC-61 case housing an 
EPoX EP-8HDA3+ mainboard. 
Now if we could just find a tiny 
UV lamp. . . . 

EIDE. SATA is the future, but 
there's no denying that the world 
is full of perfectly good EIDE hard 
drives just waiting to be repurposed. 
There's no shame in sticking with 
ATA/ 100 or ATA/ 133 instead of SATA, 
especially when you consider that an 
EIDE version of a particular hard drive 
will usually be a smidgen faster than the 
SATA edition. And apart from a Plextor 
or two, nearly all internal CD burners 
and rewritable DVD drives still use 
EIDE cables. 

Unless you're good at folding ribbon 
cables into right angles and routing them 
out of the way, which is a space-saving trick 



176 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




JUST FOR FUN 



in itself, you'll want to buy or 
make some skinnier EIDE cables 
for optimum airflow through 
your case. Theoretically, with bet- 
ter airflow, you'll be able to over- 
clock higher, as well as encode 
media or play games longer at 
overclocked speeds. For results of 
our own cable project case study, 
see the next article. 

The easiest route is to buy a 
matching set of rounded cables. 
They're sold by nearly every 
computer shop, whether online 
or brick-and-mortar. You can go 
with solid colors, such as red, 
black, yellow, or blue, or get a 

little wilder with glow-in-the- 

dark or UV-reactive cables. Round 
cables sell for about $6 to $9 online. A 
little more cash will get you cables 
sheathed in copper or aluminum mesh, 
which impart a sense of high-voltage 
power to your system. By the way, it 
might be easier to choose a color that 
contrasts with the tubes in a water- 
cooled PC than to try to match them. 

For an old-school, homebrew look, you 
can try splitting apart the wires 
of a ribbon cable lengthwise. 
Don't shave off any of the plas- 
tic insulation, though. Bundle 
the wire groups together with 
nylon ties, or wriggle suitable 
lengths of nylon sleeving and 
heat-shrink tubing over the 
cable's end connectors. 

Speaking of those connec- 
tors, check the ones on your 
hard drive and/or optical drive 
before you buy cables. Some 
EIDE cables only have 39-pin 
connectors, which won't work 
with 40-pin drives. If each of 
your drives has a missing pin 
in the middle of its rear con- 
nector, you won't have to 
worry about this. 

For the most part, data 
cables are data cables. However, 
there is one case in which using 
the wrong cable can limit your 
hard drive's speed to less than 
33MBps. ATA/66, ATA/ 100, 




Reusable ties and cable clamps cost a little more, but they're 
worth it. It's more fun to tinker with your PC if you don't have to 
cut and replace cable ties each time. 



and ATA/ 133 drives use a 39- or 40-pin 
cable with 80 actual wires, half of which 
are grounds. ATA/33 and earlier interfaces 
used cables with the same connector, but 
only 40 wires. You can tell ribbon cables 
apart at a glance: ATA/33 's wires look 
coarser. Note that ATA/33 is still fast 
enough for any optical drive, including 
16X DVD burners. Also, keep in mind 
that single desktop drives today generally 



Cable Comparison 



Do rounded cables cause crosstalk problems? Are shielded cables worth the money? According to our test 
results, the answers are probably "no" and "no." We benchmarked an Hitachi GST Deskstar 7K250 164.7GB 
ATA/100 hard drive with three types of cables and found no real difference in data throughput that would indi- 
cate delays due to transmission errors. A plain, high-quality rounded cable is your best bet for economy and airflow. 



can't read faster than 66MBps 
anyway, except for occasional tiny 
bursts of data. A fast RAID 0, 
however, can sustain speeds close 
to ATA/133's limit. 

Choose a three-connector 
EIDE cable if you're planning to 
run two drives on one channel, 
but try to keep hard drives and 
optical drives on separate cables 
for the best speed. If a cable 
doesn't have a raised key in the 
middle of its connectors, you may 
have to line up the cable's red- 
striped wire with Pin 1 on the 
drive's connector. And it's better 
to buy cables with tags on their 
connectors, so you'll have some- 
thing safer to tug on than the cable itself 
when you're disconnecting it. 

On a side note, some cables claim 
to offer better speeds by reducing errors 
from electromagnetic interference and 
crosstalk between signal wires. One 
example is IOSS/VICS Technology's 
RD3XP-A32-K Gladiator EMI Shielded 
Server Grade cable, which we found 
some time ago for $19.99. It has special 



Cable 


Generic 1 8-inch ATA/ 
133 3-connector 
ribbon cable 


Galaxy 18-inch ATA/ 
133glow-in-the-dark 1 
3-conn. rounded cable 


RD3XP-A32-K Gladiator 
8-inch 3-conn. 
rounded cable 


Price 


$1 .50 or free 
with mainboard 


$9 




$19.99 


Drive Interface 


ATA/100 


ATA/100 




ATA/100 


PCMark04 1.2.0 


Hard Drive 


4932 


4935 




4908 


HD Tach 3 


Average Read (MBps) 
Maximum Read (MBps) 


49.3 


49.3 




49.3 
62 


62 


62 




Burst Read (MBps) 


96.5 


96.5 




96.5 


Random Access (ms) 


12.9 


13 




12.9 


IOmeter 2003.5.10 


(Inputs/Outputs Per Second) 


File Server 


95.18 


95.67 




94.72 


Web Server 


129.89 


130.02 




130.89 


Where To Buy 


www.thenerds.net 


www.frozencpu.com 


www.ioss.com.tw 





Notes: PCMark04 1 .2.0 with WMP 9 at default settings, NTFS drive, 16KB clusters; HD Tach 3 with 32MB 
zones, unpardoned drive; IOmeter 2003.5.1 0, unpardoned drive, File Server test at 1 user/1 6 outstanding l/Os, 
Web Server test at 4 users/ 64 total outstanding l/Os. Test PC: Athlon 64 2800+ 754-pin, 512MB (2x256MB) of 
OCZ Gold Edition EL PC-4400 DDR, EPoX EP-8HDA3+ motherboard, Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB, VIA VT8237 
ATA/1 33 controller. 



CPU / PC Modder 177 






JUST FOR FUN 






shielding and even a grounding strap. 
Unfortunately, if it did work as adver- 
tised, it didn't boost our test drive's 
throughput at all compared to cheaper, 
less-shielded cables. We tested with an 
open case in an office environment jam- 
packed with sources of electrical noise 
emissions, so the Gladiator's shielding 
should have proved its mettle. Glance at 
the chart in this article for our results. 
You might need such a cable in a special- 
ized environment riddled with EMI, but 
for typical desktop use and gaming, we 
recommend that you save your money. 

Others. SCSI hard drives are still faster 
than SATA and EIDE drives, although 
their cost per gigabyte still keeps them in 
servers and out of most enthusiast PCs. 
SCSI cables typically come with either 68 
pins or 80 pins today. Look for the right 
pin count and interface speed when you 
shop for SCSI cables, such as 68-pin and 
320MBps, and you should be OK. You 
can find rounded SCSI cables in various 
colors at www.tigerdirect.com and www 
.outpost.com . 

Floppy drives use a different interface 
than EIDE drives, but you'll find round- 
ed floppy cables wherever you find EIDE 
cables. As for an audio line from your 
optical drive to your motherboard or 
sound card, perhaps a shielded cable 
could give you a cleaner sound. The 
RD3XP Super Shielded Audio Cable ($9; 
www.frozencpu.com ) claims to cut audi- 
ble noise from EMI, although the differ- 
ence was slight to our ears. 

If you simply can't get enough of little 
lights throughout your PC, look for 
cables with LEDs in them. We've seen 
lighted USB cables from Belkin ($32.99; 
www.belkin.com ), as well as Y-adapter 
power splitters such as CaseArts' CA- 
LED-4Y ($4.50; www.frozencpu.com ). 
Actually, you can easily mod your own 
power cables with a few bare 5-volt 
LEDs. Tap their leads into the red and 
black connectors via solder or friction, 
then bind the LEDs in place with heat- 
shrink tubing. Being diodes, LEDs only 
work when connected the right way, so 
test before you solder. 

We haven't even mentioned Fire Wire 
400MBps (6-pin or 4-pin) and 800MBps 



(9-pin) cables, S/PDIF (coaxial or opti- 
cal), DVI-I, or S-Video cables. All we'll 
say is that the sky's the limit if you're in a 
mood to mod. 

Serpent Wrangling 

Whoa, hoss. Like a temp job in the 
snake house at the zoo, things can get 
out of hand fairly quickly if you don't 
manage all those cables. We mentioned 
earlier that you need to route them out 
of the way for cooling's sake. A clean 
case will also make it easier for you to 
swap RAM, video cards, and the like. 
Here are a few suggestions we sourced at 
www.frozencpu.com . 

The cheap and cheerful staple of cable 
management is the humble nylon tie. 
Wrap one around a tangle of wires, 
thread one end through the other, pull 
until it's tight, and snip off the excess. 
The removable kind, 75 cents for a 
five-pack, are bulkier but allow you 
to rearrange without cutting the tie. 
Another reusable alternative is the purse 
lock (65 cents for 10), which twists to 
lock around your cables. 

Tie mounts are plastic bases with 
adhesive backing, so they'll let you affix a 
bundle of wires to the side or bottom of 
your case. The idea is to buy mounts to 
fit your nylon ties or purse locks. A five- 
pack of half-inch mounts for skinny ties 
cost us $1.50, but half-inch described the 
width of each mount, not the width of 
the ties each could accommodate. Verify 
before you buy. 

Other reusable clamps are available 
for a buck or two apiece. Our %-inch 
adjustable cable clamp (50 cents) had an 
adhesive base, making it perfect for keep- 
ing our power supply's main harness 
against our case's ceiling. And the small 
CableClamp device ($1.64) was pretty 
enough to use outside our case on our 
VGA, mouse, keyboard, and power cables. 

Finally, there are sleeving kits from 
TechFlex and others. We're out of space 
here, so turn to the next article for more 
on what to do with them. 

by Marty Sems 




Do you need shielded cables? No. Do they work 
as advertised? Iffy. Do they look sweet? You bet. 




Glow-in-the-dark cables don't require extra 
lamps like UV-reactive ones, as they absorb 
ambient light. Copper mesh-wrapped cables 
lend an air of understated power. 




Rounded ATA/133 cables come in various 
colors and styles. Less sightly are sleeved or 
slit-ribbon cables, shown at the right. 




In case you're building a casino or Christmas 
tree mod, here's a power Y-adapter with LEDs. 



178 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




JUST FOR FUN 



Extreme 
Makeover 

Before & After PSU & Cabling Project 



The last time we saw something 
this ugly, it was being modeled 
on a Parisian fashion show run- 
way. The time before that, it had a race 
car spoiler the size of a barn door. 

The latest offense to our aesthetic sen- 
sibilities is the inside of a certain PC we 
know. The interior looks like a box of 
miscellaneous rope and twine fragments 
at an estate sale. Broad, grey ribbons 
droop like banners from last year's New 
Year's Eve party. Shocks of multicolored 
wires dangle here and there, some 
perilously close to whirling fan 
blades. And the fans themselves are 
working overtime trying to push 
air past all those obstructions in 
their paths. 

It's time to clean up this com- 
puter's case like Wyatt Earp in 
Tombstone, Ariz. First, we're 
going to bind the power supply's 
tangled skeins of wires. Next, 
we're going to route all those data 
and power cables out of the way 
and replace the ones that look 
problematic. 

Finally, we're going to test the 
theorem that a clear path for air- 
flow is crucial to proper system cooling. 
We'll say right up front that you'll want 
to take a cheaper route than we did, as 
you can get similar results without 
spending much money. 

How We Tested 

Our PC had an AMD 754-pin Athlon 
64 2800+, 512MB of OCZ Gold Edition 
EL PC4400 DDR memory with heat 
spreaders, a Gainward GeForce FX 
5900XT video adapter with 128MB 
of memory, an EPoX EP-8HDA3 + 



motherboard, and a Maxtor 7,200rpm 
SATA hard drive. The SATA drive 
didn't have a wide ribbon cable, of 
course, but our NEC ND-3500A double- 
layer DVD±RW and floppy drives did. 

Our Lian-Li PC-61 case had more fans 
than most users' systems, so we decided to 
make it more typical with only one front 
intake and one rear exhaust fan (the 
power supply's). For more details on our 
testing, see the "Cabling Comparison" 
chart in this article. 




Neat hardware, ugly cable layout. 



Sleeve That Power Supply 

The "purty" part of our cable man- 
agement project turned out to be what 
we did to our Raidmax KY-450ATX 
power supply. The dun-colored Raidmax 
looked like a Cold War bunker with a 
Sid & Marty Krofft squid puppet com- 
ing out of it. It had the multicolored 
cables and translucent white connectors 
common to PSUs the world over and 
preferred to dangle its main harness right 
in front of the CPU fan. Because it came 
along for the ride in a $35 ATX case, we 



weren't terribly worried about driving it 
into the ditch. 

Sleeving a power supply lets you dress 
it up and make its cables more aerody- 
namic at the same time. It can be expen- 
sive and time-consuming, but it doesn't 
have to be. The basic idea is to remove 
each wire harness' plastic connector(s), 
wriggle a length of plastic mesh sheathing 
over the wire group, and use short pieces 
of heat-shrink tubing to lock each end in 
place. You can reuse the same white 
power connectors, or replace them with a 
set of black or colored aftermarket ones as 
we did. We purchased a Vantec CSK-80- 
BL Cable Sleeving Kit in blue ($14.99, 
www.frozencpu.com ) and a Connectorz 
2167 Power Supply Changeover Kit 
($9.95, www.jab-tech.com ). 

For a project like this one, you'll need 
to buy a few tools to help you separate the 
connectors from their metal pins without 
breaking anything. The alternative is to 
snip off each wire next to the pin, strip it, 
crimp on a new male or female pin 
of the appropriate type, and solder 
it in place. Replacement pins are 
cheaper than connector disassembly 
tools, but then again, reusing the 
pins is much easier than installing 
new ones. 

We bought our pin removal tools 
from FrozenCPU.com. We already 
had a ConnectRight universal 
Molex pin remover ($9.99) from an 
earlier project, but it turned out to 
be useful only for removing female 
pins. We would have had to spend 
another 10 bucks on a Connect- 
Right male Molex pin remover if we 
had chosen to tackle our Y-adapter 
case fan connectors. Our Universal tool 
might have been a female pin remover 
shipped to us by mistake, so your best bet 
is to try the universal model first and see 
whether it covers all the connectors you 
need to disassemble. 

We also bought an ATX connec- 
tor/ 12-volt P4 connector removal tool 
($25) to remove the odd, square-shaped 
pins in the PSU's 20-pin and 4-pin 
power harnesses. It may also work on the 
new 6-pin auxiliary power connectors 
required by some PCI Express video 



CPU / PC Modder 179 






JUST FOR FUN 








This handful of pin remover tools for power supply sleeving can cost 
you $60, but we've seen similar kits selling for as little as $27. 



Our ATX connector/1 2-volt P4 connector removal tool had one of its 
tips broken off, but we found that our 6-pin auxiliary removal tool 
could supply the second tip we needed. 



cards. The tool has two flat prongs that 
are meant to slide along either side of a 
pin, flattening its retention ears so that 
you can slip the pin out the rear of the 
connector. Unfortunately, ours arrived 
with one prong broken off and the other 
bent sideways. We straightened the 
remaining prong, grumbling about the 
RMA process ahead of us, when we dis- 
covered that the single prong on our 6- 
pin auxiliary removal tool ($15) looked 
to be about the same size. We inserted 
the tips of both tools alongside one of the 
20-pin connectors' pins, and voila! The 
workaround worked. 

That 6-pin auxiliary removal tool we 
mentioned is meant for the AUX connec- 
tor that resembles one of the old AT 
form factor's main power fittings. 
The AUX connector is usually 
marked P8 and is necessary for 
some motherboards, especially in 
servers. Actually, we had hoped 
that one prong of the ATX connec- 
tor/1 2-volt P4 tool would' ve been 
able to remove this oddball connec- 
tor's bent, flat contacts, but ours 
wasn't quite strong enough to stand 
up to the necessary prying motion. 

A faster alternative to mesh sleev- 
ing that's not quite as pretty is split- 
wire loom tubing. About $1.50 to 
$3 per foot at www.xoxide.com , 
split- wire looms look like they'd be 
right at home under the hood of 



your car. They're slit lengthwise, so you 
can slip lengths of them over your cables 
and secure them with tape or ties. 
Actually, you don't even need to sheathe 
your cables at all. Neatly trimmed nylon 
ties are easy to zip around bare wire 
bundles every few inches and are very 
effective. 

If you do decide to use regular, unsplit 
mesh sleeving, remember that it's cheaper 
to buy a power supply that already has one 
or more harnesses already sleeved, such as 
the Antec True430W. The tools you'll 
need to disassemble the power supply 
connectors can cost as much as a low-end 
PSU. We spent about $50 on the ones we 
needed. (There's an alternative four-tool 
kit for $27.99 at www.crazypc.com . D'oh. 




This 350-watt Raidmax KY-450ATX power supply isn't the 
hairiest specimen we've seen, but it's still a good candidate 
for some sleeving practice. 



Alas, the remaining tips on our 20-pin 
and 6-pin removal tools broke off early 
on in our project. Special thanks to 
FrozenCPU.com for sending us quick 
replacements.) A kit with sleeving material 
and heat-shrink tubing costs another $15, 
and replacement connectors add another 
$10. That's $75 right there, not to men- 
tion tax, shipping, and your time. 

So much for all the whys, wherefores, 
and alternative routes. Here's a play-by- 
play of how we bound a power supply's 
unruliness with some judicious sheathing. 
Fair warning. There are six or seven 
types of connectors you may have to 
remove in a modern power supply. In 
each case, use no more force than neces- 
sary to avoid bending or breaking the 
metal or plastic tabs keeping each 
pin in place. If you flatten a metal 
retaining flange, fluff it back up 
with one of the finer pin removers, 
a pocketknife tip, or tweezers. 
Sometimes it will be easier to release 
a metal pin if you push in on the 
cable before you apply the appropri- 
ate remover tool. 

Label the wires before you remove 
any pins from a connector. We tried 
several methods, but only a few real- 
ly worked for us. One is to make 
marks on each wire with a white 
grease pencil. Another is to write 
small numbers on masking tape 
before you pull it from the roll and 



180 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




JUST FOR FUN 




"Ballooning" the sleeving mesh can help you 
wriggle the pins and wires through it. 



Heat-shrink tubing will pucker down to about 
half its diameter when you heat it, so choose a 
size that will make a snug fit around your wire 
bundles and sleeving. 



Slinky! Here's how our PSU turned out after 
sleeving. We didn't order enough of the 
smallest size of heat-shrink tubing, so we had 
to use a couple of nylon ties to finish up. 



wrap it around each wire near the pin. We 
tried making tags for each wire with 
longer lengths of tape, but these tended to 
catch when we tried to work the sleeving 
material over the wires. 

After you label wires in some way, sketch 
a quick diagram of their orientation in the 
connector. The position in a connector 
isn't crucial for some wires, but it is for 
others. It's really best to put each pin back 
in the same hole from whence it came, 
including the grounds. Work on only one 
connector at a time to avoid mix- 
ing things up. It also doesn't hurt 
to have a helper nearby, as some of 
these connectors almost require 
three hands to separate them. 

20-pin main harness, 4-pin P4 
auxiliary, 6-pin PCI Express. Slip 
the two tips of the ATX connec- 
tor/ 12-volt P4 connector removal 
tool along either side of the hol- 
low, square metal pin. The tool 
will stay in place as you hold the 
connector with one hand and tug 
out the pin wire with the other. 
Each pin's retaining tabs should 
face the sides when you insert the 
pin in the new connector follow- 
ing the sleeving process. 

4-pin Molex. Insert the tip of the male, 
female, or universal tool into the connector 
and over the pin. Seat the tip as far into the 
connector as it will go using a twisting 
motion. Hold the connector firmly against 
the tool with one hand. With the other, 
depress the tool's plunger. The pin should 
pop out with a snap. 



If the pin's metal ears end up curled 
back instead of lying nearly flat against 
its flanks, you'll need to push the tool 
and/or the pin's wire farther into the con- 
nector before you stab the plunger. 
Straighten the ears with a small pair of pli- 
ers, and point them backward from the 
pin's tip and slightly away from its shaft, 
like the barbs on a bow fishing arrow's tip. 

4-pin floppy. The top of the floppy 
connector is the side that exposes the 
retention tabs on the bottoms of the 




Much better. Our cable solution emphasized function over form, but 
don't hesitate to make yours as attractive as you like. 



U-shaped metal pins. Depress each tab 
with the tip of the 6-pin AUX tool or 
the 20-pin tool, and then slide out the 
pin. Actually, a knife tip works just as 
well on this type of connector. You may 
have to bend a tab outward a little with 
a knife tip or fingernail to get the pin to 
stay in the new connector. 



Don't forget that the bottom of the U- 
shaped pin faces upward in the connector, 
or toward the side with the single indexing 
rib. We also noticed that the floppy power 
wires were reversed as compared to the 4- 
pin Molex's, relative to the top of each 
connector (the side with beveled edges in 
the 4-pin Molex connector's case). 

SATA power. Working on the side of 
the SATA connector that exposes the five 
metal contacts, use the 6-pin auxiliary 
removal tool to gently pry upward on the 
black plastic tab holding each 
pin. Pushing in on the wire first 
helped in our case. Orient the 
pin so that its two retaining 
bumps are on top before you 
snap it back into the connector. 

6-pin AUX. Lay the connector 
flat on a table with its clip side up. 
In this position, the small access 
holes on the end of the connector 
should lie above the larger holes. 
Slide the tip of the 6-pin auxiliary 
removal tool into one of the small- 
er holes. Holding the connector 
down, gently pry upward on the 
tool as you wiggle the wire out of 
the connector. 

The electrical contact will 
ike a flat tab folded back onto 
itself. The curled side should face down- 
ward when you slide the contact back 
into the connector. 

Sleeving. Like a nylon rope, plastic 
mesh sleeving can unravel after you cut it. 
Vantec recommends using a hot knife or 
rope cutter to cut the lengths your power 



look 



CPU / PCModder 181 






JUST FOR FUN 






supply requires. The idea is to melt the cut 
edges a little so they're fused together, pre- 
venting them from unraveling. You might 
also try a butane grill lighter or a candle. 

Some modders skip the step of melting 
the end of the sleeving because doing so 
can make it harder to run the sheathing 
over the PSU's wires and pins. We 
skipped it because we were in a hurry. A 
workaround is to cut your sleeving lengths 
a little long, then trim off the frayed sec- 
tions after you get each in place over the 
wire bundles. Once you've sleeved a few 
power lines with multiple connectors on 
them, you'll gain a newfound respect for 
the way large snakes can make swallowing 
toy poodles look so easy. 

Heat shrink. No matter how your 
sleeving ends look at this point, short 
lengths of heat-shrink tubing will squeeze 
them against the wires and make the edges 
look nice and neat. Heat-shrink typically 
contracts to about half of its diameter, so 
choose a size that's twice the breadth of a 
wire bundle or a little smaller. We cut ours 
in sections roughly an inch long. 

You can shrink the tubing by carefully 
directing heat at it from a propane torch 
or a cigarette lighter, but you'll need to be 
mindful not to scorch or melt anything. A 
better method is to use a heat gun, such 
as the $19.99 Chicago Electric one we 
bought from www.harborfreight.com . A 
heat gun is like a souped-up hairdryer, 
but you wouldn't want to use it as one. It 
runs much hotter, for one thing, yet it's 
safer than an open flame. The lower set- 
ting on ours worked best, as the high set- 
ting melted a small hole in our plastic 
sleeving when we let the stream of hot air 
linger too long in one spot. Take care not 
to let the hot metal tip touch your skin or 
anything else until it cools. 

Cable Stealthing 

After blowing all of our dough on the 
power supply beautification project, we 
decided to go cheap on replacing our 
PC's ribbon cables. We grabbed the short, 
red SATA cable from the previous article, 
along with a handful of rounded EIDE 
and floppy cables from our parts bin. You 
will probably want to buy a matching set 
of cables in the color or style you prefer. 



If you prefer, you can fold your ribbon 
cables at 90-degree angles to route them 
out of the way. 

We also used a few ties and mounts 
from the previous article to help route 
wires along edges and away from the 
airflow path. We stuffed excess cable 
lengths behind the hard drive cage and 
into unused 5.25-inch drive bays. As for 
the 4-pin audio cable between the DVD 
drive and motherboard, we temporarily 
removed the board to route the line diago- 
nally underneath it. We also rotated a cou- 
ple of fans to take up slack in their power 
lines, and tied other wires to existing bun- 
dles for neatness. 

Some modders go all out with home- 
made wire conduits and/or cable groups 
shaped into rigid horizontal or vertical 
planes reminiscent of a Piet Mondrian 
painting. Be as artistic as you like. 

You Mean That's It? 

So . . . hmm. All of our cable manage- 
ment efforts amounted to only a very 
modest improvement in system cooling. 
The only notable benefit from our project 
was a 1.5-degree Celsius/2. 7-degree 
Fahrenheit improvement in our graphics 
card's temp during 3DMark05. This was 



Cabling Comparison 



Cable position proved to be much less of a factor than fan throughput in our tests, but every little 
bit helps. We recorded the maximum temperatures in degrees Celsius and Fahrenheit reached 
during PCMark04's 10 System tests or 3DMark05's three game tests (4XAA, 8XAF). Our test 
PC's Lian-Li PC-61 case was fully assembled with all panels in place. Enabled fans included the 
RaidMax power supply's exhaust blower and an 80mm front intake fan. Probe temps are from a 
Thermaltake Hardcano 12's sensors, with the case probe touching nothing but the air in the cent 
er of the case. Utility temps are as reported by the motherboard's sensors per EPoX's USDM 
3.0.1.001 monitoring software. 

Before Cable After Cable 

Management Management 

(Degrees C/F) (Degrees C/F) 

CPU Probe Idle 30.5/86.9 29.7/85.4 



primarily the result of clearing the area 
between the front intake fans and the 
video adapter, although it also helped that 
we removed some obstructions in front of 
the power supply's intake vents. A tem- 
perature delta like this opens up the possi- 
bility of overclocking any card a tiny bit 
higher. It may also make slimmed cables 
look like money well spent, although it 
isn't nearly enough to justify the cost of a 
sleeving kit and tools. 

What really helped our system's ther- 
mal performance was turning on more 
fans, but that's a different story. For a 
closer look at our fan case study, flip 
back a few articles to "Fans Case Study," 
on page 152. 

Note that long 3D-gaming sessions 
can heat up the room a computer is in, 
raising case and component temperatures 
as warmer air recirculates through the 
PC. If you're a regular visitor to the UAC 
Mars base or City 17, don't neglect to 
circulate air through your gaming lair. 
Still, it can only help matters if your PC's 
interior doesn't look like a jungle island 
in the South Pacific. CPU 

by Marty Sems 



Improvement 
(Degrees C/F) 



0.8/1.5 



CPU Probe PCMark04 


35/95 


35.5/95.9 


-0.5/-0.9 


CPU Utility Idle 


34/93 






34/93 


... 


CPU Utility PCMark04 


43/109 


42/107 


1/2 




GPU Probe Idle 


30.5/86.9 


30.5/86.9 


... 


GPU Probe 3DMark05 


44.5/112.1 


43/109.4 


1 .5/2.7 




Case Probe Idle 


27.5/81.5 


27.5/81 .5 


... 


Case Probe PCMark04 


29/84.2 


28.5/83.3 


0.5/0.9 




Motherboard Utility Idle 


31/87 


31/87 


... 


Motherboard Utility PCMark04 


32/89 


32/89 


... 



182 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




JUST FOR FUN 



Fan Art 



Our Favorite Fan Covers & Grilles 



Compiled by Andrew Leibman 



The basic wire fan grille is designed to protect fan blades from inter- 
loping wires (and/or to protect wires from the fan) and miscellaneous 
odds and ends that might interrupt critical airflow. But fan covers and 
grilles have evolved to become a vanity accessory with more to say 
than just the hum of a spinning fan. 



Laser-Cut Grilles 

A laser-cut fan grille can spice up your bland blowhole with any design your heart desires, whether your bag is 
comic book characters, sports teams, or zodiac symbols. Laser-cut fan grilles are available in a variety of sizes 
in either steel or aluminum and come in anodized, textured, painted, and chromed flavors. 





Blade 

Made of: chromed steel 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $4.49 
Manufacturer: Logisys 
Available at: www.newegg.com 



Blade 2 

Made of: chromed steel 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $4.99 
Manufacturer: Logisys 
Available at: www.xoxide.com 




Spider 

Made of: chromed steel 

Size: 80mm 

Price: $6.50 

Manufacturer: Logisys 

Available at: www.mutantmods.com 



LED Grilles 

The LED fan grille is one of the most popular fan accessories and comes in a bevy of designs, colors, and con- 
struction materials. Some fans use both LEDs and UV reactive paint or acrylic. Some specialty LEDs can even 
flash and change colors. 




Red LED 

Made of: acrylic/LED 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $5.99 

Manufacturer: Sunbeamtech 
Available at: www.xpcgear.com 




Counterstrike 

Made of: acrylic/LED 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $11.99 

Manufacturer: Sunbeamtech 
Available at: www.jab-tech.com 




Blue Unreal Tournament 

Made of: acrylic/LED 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $5.99 

Manufacturer: Sunbeamtech 
Available at: www.directron.com 



CPU / PCModder 183 






JUST FOR FUN 






Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Light Grilles 

CCFLs (cold-cathode fluorescent lights) have the benefit of superior brightness, 
long life spans, low power consumption, and relatively low heat outputs. The 
combination of a CCFL black light and UV reactive acrylic makes for a striking 
fan grille. 





Sunbeam Round CCFL 

Made of: acrylic 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $8.99 

Manufacturer: Sunbeamtech 
Available at: 
www.directron.com 



Punisher CCFL 

Made of: UV acrylic/ 
CCFL black light 

Size: 80mm 

Price: $12.95 

Manufacturer: Logisys 

Available at: 
www.coolerguys.com 



Ultraviolet Reactive Grilles 

UV reactive fan grilles glow bright fluorescent 
colors when exposed to black light. Acrylic 
UV fan grilles appear transparent when 
exposed to normal light. Steel and aluminum 
fan grilles coated in UV-sensitive paint also 
react to black light. 




Smiling Skull 

Made of: acrylic 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $5 

Manufacturer: Logisys 
Available at: www.frozencpu.com 



Custom Fan Grilles 

If you're looking for a unique fan grille to top off your modded masterpiece, 
consider having your fan grilles fabricated to your own specifications. Bonzai- 
mods offers a few hand-painted creations online and takes orders for custom- 
made metal or acrylic fan grilles. 





EL Wire 

EL Wire fan grilles put out very little heat, 
draw a small amount of power, and have a 
good life span. If you want something more 
subtle than CCFL, look for EL wire grilles, 
which aren't bright enough to be visible with 
the lights on. 



Master Works Dragon 

Made of: resin 
Size: 120mm 
Price: $29.99 

Manufacturer: Bonzai-mods 
Available at: 
www.bonzai-mods.com 



Tribamental Flames 

Made of: resin 
Size: 120mm 
Price: $14.99 

Manufacturer: Bonzai-mods 
Available at: 
www.bonzai-mods.com 




Half Life EL Wire 

Made of: acrylic/EL wire 
Size: 80mm 
Price: $9.99 

Manufacturer: Sunbeamtech 
Available at: www.xoxide.com 



184 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




JUST FOR FUN 



Wi-Fi That 
Really Cooks 

Raid The Kitchen For Greater Range 




These canned foodstuffs not only made great 
cantennas, we estimate they can feed a family of seven. 



The true beauty of modeling lies 
in its egalitarianism. Pragmatic 
modders strive to achieve a per- 
fect overclocked harmony among their 
systems' internal components while van- 
ity modders use their creative talents to 
craft artistic masterpieces. 

And then there's the small band of 
modders who push their hardware to 
ludicrous limits out of curiosity and for 
bragging rights. A liquid nitrogen-cooled 
system is useful for little more than over- 
clocking drag races, but watching your 
Intel Pentium 4 scream past 6GHz 
inspires a kind of nirvana rarely achieved 
among conventional modding circles. 



Wireless networking can also fall under 
the umbrella of high-performance, low- 
practicality modding. Sure, many large 
homes stand to benefit from the extra 
range of an amplified antenna. On the 
other hand, a great deal of homebrewed 
network equipment is only useful if you 
want to get creative. 

Wi-Fi modding is an enticing adven- 
ture for several reasons. For starters, the 
overall cost to rig up a homebrewed net- 
work is relatively low. In fact, about $20 
is all you'll need to purchase all the net- 
working equipment you need to rival a 
great deal of commercial-grade hardware. 
Also, building a "cantenna" or similar 



device poses very little risk to your hard- 
ware because you aren't tinkering with 
the hardware itself. Finally, building a 
custom antenna is fairly simple, provided 
you can do the math. Even if math isn't 
your forte, a number of Web sites offer 
the necessary equations. 

Before we continue on our homebrew 
escapade, we'd like to extend a special 
thanks to Steve "More Power" Schmidt for 
introducing our cans to the cold, steel reali- 
ty of a power drill. The folks at Fleeman 
Anderson & Bird ( www.fab-corp.com) also 
deserve a hearty round of applause for help- 
ing us select the right kit for our cantenna. 

Hungry For Parts 

A plethora of options exist for build- 
ing a super antenna, and coincidentally, 
you can find most of them in your 
kitchen. That economy-sized can of pork 
and beans won't win you any friends at 
the dinner table, so pour its contents 
down the drain and use it as a jumbo 
cantenna. Folgers and Pringles cans are 
good choices, too. Make sure your can is 
made of a conductive material; plastic 
containers don't work well. 

To build the cantenna, you'll need 
the following equipment: An N-type 
female chassis-mount connector, a cable 
frequently called a pigtail that connects 
the N-connector to your access point, 
nuts and bolts to fasten the N-connector 
to the can (depending on the N-connec- 
tor you buy, you may not need the nuts 
and bolts), and about 1.25 inches of 
copper wire (usually 12 gauge). It's a 
very good idea to call your vendor of 
choice and ask if the pigtail is compati- 
ble with your router's antenna adapter. 
We learned this the hard way after the 
first pigtail we ordered came with a male 
plug for our male antenna adapter. We 
used the Cantenna Kit, 48 inch for R— 
SMA Male Connectors from Fleeman 
Anderson & Bird. 

Once you have your pigtail, select your 
favorite canned food item, polish off its 
contents, and you're ready to build. 

When you assemble your cantenna, 
you're welcome to indiscriminately 
punch a hole in your can for the N-con- 
nector and hope to have a functioning 



CPU / PCModder 185 




JUST FOR FUN 






Extreme Wi-Fi 

The line between genius and insanity is 
thin and blurry. Whereas most people 
are content if their Wi-Fi signal extends to 
every corner of the house, there are a 
select few that won't be satisfied until 
they can send a Wi-Fi signal to every cor- 
ner of a state. Watch out, Delaware. 

Every year, hackers, security experts, 
and other interested power users descend 
upon the glitz and glow of Las Vegas for 
Defcon. The conference has been around 
for 12 years, and it recently added an 
event called the Wi-Fi Shootout. The 
premise is simple: Whoever establishes 
an 802.1 1 b network over the farthest dis- 
tance wins the event. 

This year at the second annual Wi-Fi 
Shootout, team P.A.D. successfully set up 
a peer-to-peer network between two 
computers 55.1 miles apart from each 
other, putting your 802.1 Ig router to 
shame. P.A.D. used a homebrewed con- 
traption that would make Rube Goldberg 
proud. The team rigged two ancient 9V2- 
foot satellite dishes to receive the Wi-Fi 
signal across the desert, setting a new 
world record for an unamplified signal. 
Prior Wi-Fi aficionados have built more 
far-reaching 802.1 lb connections but did 
so with amplified equipment. In addition 
to the satellite dishes, P.A.D. used two 
retail consumer-grade 32mW Orinoco 
Gold USB Wi-Fi adapters. ▲ 

antenna. If you position the N-connec- 
tor so the assembled cantenna operates 
at a 2.4GHz frequency, the same fre- 
quency as 802.1 lb/g networking hard- 
ware, your results should be better. 
Setting up the right equations involves 
dredging up knowledge you acquired in 
your high-school physics class. Fortu- 
nately, Gregory Rehm's Web site (www 
.turnpoint.net/wireless/cantennahowto 
.html ) has a calculator that does the 
dirty work for you. 

But the FCC doesn't want you to build 
your own cantenna. That's right, it's 
against the law to attach a non-FCC- 
approved antenna to your access point. 



Build at your own risk if you still decide a 
cantenna is the route you want to go. 

For those of you who would prefer to 
stay on the right side of the law, there is 
an alternative that's fairly easy to imple- 
ment. Instead of building an amplified 
antenna, build a device 
that acts as a boosted 
receiver. Many options 
exist, but our favorite 
combines panache with 
functionality. 

A parabolic wok is 
the perfect piece of 
cookware to comple- 
ment your Wi-Fi adapt- 
er. Once again, a little 
physics helps explain 
why you can't just 
indiscriminately snag 
any old pot or pan to 
use. A parabolic wok 
acts as a natural concave 
lens, gathering a distant 
signal and focusing it to 
a receiver. Most Amer- 
icanized woks have flat 
bases that aren't con- 
ducive to gathering a 
Wi-Fi signal, but a par- 
abolic wok should 
behave like a satellite 
dish, letting you receive 
Wi-Fi signals at distances unachievable 
with a conventional adapter. 

You'll also want to use a small USB 
wireless adapter instead of one that uses 
a PCI or PC Card interface because it's 
virtually impossible to use them with a 
parabolic dish. Most major consumer 
networking manufacturers make proper 
adapters. A few brave souls have also 
experimented with using a PDA with a 
Wi-Fi card. 

More Physics Lessons 

Also, you don't need to use a wok for 
your parabolic dish. Others have found 
success wrapping a parabolic-shaped dish 
with aluminum foil or combining a can- 
tenna apparatus with an old, out of ser- 
vice Primestar satellite dish. No matter 
what you decide to use, you'll need to 
calculate the focal point of your dish. 



That's right, it's 
against the law 
to attach a non- 
FCC-approved 
antenna to your 

access point. 

Build at your 
own risk if you 

still decide a 

cantenna is the 

route you want 

to go. 



This is the point at which the reflected 
Wi-Fi signal will be the strongest. 

To calculate the focal point, measure 
your dish's diameter and depth. Using the 
formula f (focal point) = d 2 (diameter 
squared) / 16 * c (the wok's depth), you'll 
need to affix your wire- 
less adapter f inches 
away from the dish's 
center. Another word of 
caution: Make sure you 
have your adapter firmly 
cradled in place if you 
want to use your home- 
brew wireless gadget 
outdoors. The slightest 
gust of wind can knock 
the wireless adapter 
away from the dish's 
focal point. 



Cantastic 

Once our Cantenna 
Kit arrived in the mail, 
we were off on an ad- 
venture of tasty pro- 
portions. We hit up 
our local grocery store 
and procured three 
cans of varying vol- 
umes. The Hy-Vee 
Soup Classics Chicken 
Noodle soup, a peren- 
nial favorite among soup lovers and cold 
sufferers alike, was our smallest can with 
a 3.25-inch diameter and 5.63-inch 
length. Dunbars Nature's Pride Cut 
Sweet Potatoes was slightly larger with a 
4-inch diameter and 6-inch length. 
Finally, the can of Mrs. Grimes Original 
Style Chili Beans stood in for the heavy- 
weight class with a 6-inch diameter and 
6.88-inch length. 

We emptied and cleaned each can out 
and calculated the appropriate location on 
each can for the hole. A Vi-inch drill bit 
did most of our dirty work, but we had to 
grind the resulting hole a little wider for 
the N-connector. A 5/8-inch drill bit 
probably would have done the trick. 

After we finished drilling the holes, our 
can-tenders were ready to square off 
against our D-Link DI-624's stock anten- 
na. We set up a wireless network with 



186 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




JUST FOR FUN 



Despite its generous girth, 

our chili bean cantenna 

didn't perform as well as 

our smaller cans. 



128-bit WEP encryption 
between the DI-624 and 
an IBM T42 laptop. We 
ran IBM Access Connec- 
tions and recorded the sig- 
nal strength and adapter 
speed for each can and the 
stock antenna at 100 feet and 250 feet 
with no obstructions. 

Apparently a bigger can doesn't deliv- 
er better performance, as the diminutive 
can of chicken noodle soup led the pack. 
At 100 feet, Access Connections rated 
our signal strength and adapter speed at 
68% and 54Mbps, respectively. This 
dropped slightly when we stretched the 
network to 250 feet, falling to a consis- 
tent 48% and 48Mbps. 

The sweet potatoes can took runner- 
up honors, turning in a 62% signal 
strength with a 54Mbps adapter speed at 
100 feet and a 44% signal strength with a 
48Mbps adapter speed at 250 feet. 

We were surprised to see the army- 
sized can of chili beans finish as the worst 
cantenna of the trio. Still, it managed to 
be just as effective as the DI-624's stock 
antenna with a signal strength of 57% 
and adapter speed of 54Mbps at 100 feet 
and 37% and 48Mbps at 250ft. The 
stock antenna finished with a respective 
signal strength and adapter speed of 60% 
and 54Mbps at 100 feet and 51% and 
36Mbps at 250 feet. 

Magically Delicious Or Bad Aftertaste? 

Our ragtag cadre of cantennas certainly 
worked, and we're willing to say they 




were at least as good, if not better, than 
the stock antenna. We should also point 
out that there is a can length to diameter 
ratio sweet spot that theoreti- 
cally produces the best signal 
(the sweet spot is obtained 
according to the wavelength 
of a Wi-Fi radio wave). None 
of our cans fell into this sweet 
spot, but our results were still 
impressive. Trial and error is 
likely the best method for 
finding the best can, but once 
you purchase a cantenna kit, 
your expenses shouldn't be 
too exorbitant. 

On the other hand, is it 
even worth spending $25 to 
build a cantenna that's only 
marginally better than stock 
equipment? If you're willing 
to experiment, you may find 
a can that produces results to 
justify upgrading. 

For a virtually guaran- 
teed boost, you can always 



After vanity-modding a case, you 

should have no problem drilling 

the hole for the N-connector. 



pay a professional. There are a number of 
commercial-grade antennae for a variety 
of budgets. For $49.95, you can be the 
proud owner of a Super Cantenna, which 
looks surprisingly close to a professionally 
designed, souped-up Pringles cantenna. 
Wireless Garden ( www.cantenna.com ), 
the company that produces the Super 
Cantenna, claims its product uses "high- 
quality and lab-tested" materials. It's a 
pretty safe bet the Super Cantenna can 
trounce a Pringles cantenna any day of 
the week. 

As we mentioned earlier, you may not 
need the extra power of a super antenna. 
For all their strength, their usefulness is 
extremely limited. You might be able to 
set up a Doom 3 deathmatch with your 
neighbor down the street, but why not 
host the deathmatch over the Internet? 
They may not taste as good, but for 
home users, stock 802.1 lb/g products 
will satisfy most networking needs. CPU 

by Vince Cogley 




CPU / PCModder 187 



Intel CPU Reference 

New Processors By Another Name 



With the exception of the latest Itanium 2s and the 
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, Intel's recent releases are 
based on the 90nm manufacturing process. Although Intel suf- 
fered a few road map hiccups, the chip giant rolled out the 



Celeron D processors, a series of Dothan mobile processors, and 
several more desktop and enterprise CPUs. 

Compiled by Andrew Leibman 



1 Processor Chart (Listed In Reverse Chronological Order) 1 


Processor Family 


Low Voltage Itanium 2 


Itanium 2 DP 


Itanium 2 DP 


Itanium 2 MP 


Itanium 2 MP 


Itanium 2 MP 

N/A 

1.5GHz 
Madison 
Nov. 8, 2004 
400MHz 
4MBL3 
Itanium 2 
130nm 

DDR SDRAM 
; multiprocessor servers 


Product Name 
Clock Speed 
Code Name 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


1.3GHz 


1.6GHz 


1.6GHz 


1.6GHz 


1.6GHz 


Deerfield 


Madison 


Madison 


Madison 


Madison 


Date Of Introduction 


Nov. 8, 2004 


Nov. 8, 2004 


Nov. 8, 2004 


Nov. 8, 2004 


Nov. 8, 2004 


System Bus (MHz) 


400MHz 


533MHz 


400MHz 


400MHz 


400MHz 


Cache 
Socket Type 
Mnfr. Technology 


3MB L3 


3MB L3 


3MB L3 


9MB L3 


6MB L3 


Itanium 2 


Itanium 2 


Itanium 2 


Itanium 2 


Itanium 2 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


Supported Memory 


DDR SDRAM 


DDR SDRAM 


DDR SDRAM 


DDR SDRAM 


DDR SDRAM 


Target Market 


dual-processor 


dual-processor 


dual-processor 


multiprocessor servers 


; multiprocessor servers 




servers optimized for 


servers in clusters, 


servers in clusters, 


in clusters, high- 


in clusters, high- 


in clusters, high- 




low power and low 


high-performance and 


high-performance and 


performance and 


performance and 


performance and 




cost systems 


technical applications 


technical applications 


technical applications 


technical applications 


technical applications 
Intel Extended 


Features 


EPIC architecture, 


Intel Extended 


Intel Extended 


Intel Extended 


Intel Extended 




62 watts maximum 


Memory 64 


Memory 64 


Memory 64 


Memory 64 


Memory 64 




power consumption, 


Technology, EPIC 


Technology, EPIC 


Technology, EPIC 


Technology, EPIC 


Technology, EPIC 




dual-processor 


architecture, MCA 


architecture, MCA 


architecture, MCA 


architecture, MCA 


architecture, MCA 




optimized, MCA with 


with ECC, IA-32 EL, 


with ECC, IA-32 EL, 


with ECC, IA-32 EL, 


with ECC, IA-32 EL, 


with ECC, IA-32 EL, 




ECC, support HP-UX, 


support for HP-UX, 


support for HP-UX, 


support for HP-UX, 


support for HP-UX, 


support for HP-UX, 




Linux, Windows 


Linux, and Windows 


Linux, and Windows 


Linux, and Windows 


Linux, and Windows 


Linux, and Windows 


Number Of CPUs 


Server 2003 


Server 2003 


Server 2003 


Server 2003 


Server 2003 


Server 2003 












Supported 


1,2 


1,2 


1,2 


2,4,8 


2,4,8 


2,4,8 

Xeon 

N/A 

3.0GHz 

Nocona 

June 28, 2004 

800MHz 

1MBL2 

Socket 603 

90nm 

dual-channel DDR 


Processor Family 

Product Name 
Clock Speed 


Pentium 4 Extreme Ed. 


Celeron D 


Xeon 


Xeon 


Xeon 


N/A 


340 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


3.46GHz 


2.93GHz 


3.6GHz 


3.4GHz 


3.2GHz 


Code Name 

Date Of Introduction 


Northwood 


Prescott 


Nocona 


Nocona 


Nocona 


Nov. 1 , 2004 


Sept. 22, 2004 


June 28, 2004 


June 28, 2004 


June 28, 2004 


System Bus (MHz) 

Cache 

Socket Type 


1.06GHz 


533MHz 


800MHz 


800MHz 


800MHz 


2MBL3 


256KB L2 


1MBL2 


1MBL2 


1MBL2 


Socket 775 


Socket 775/478 


Socket 603 


Socket 603 


Socket 603 


Mnfr Technology 


130nm 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


Supported Memory 


dual-channel DDR and 


DDR SDRAM 


dual-channel DDR 


dual-channel DDR 


dual-channel DDR 




DDR2 (depending on 




and DDR2 


and DDR2 


and DDR2 


and DDR2 




chipset) PC3200/PC2700/ 


(depending 


(depending 


(depending 


(depending 




PC2100/PC1600 




on chipset) 


on chipset) 


on chipset) 


on chipset) 
dual-processor 


Target Market 


high-end 


value PCs 


single- or dual- 


single- or dual- 


dual-processor 




gaming systems 




processor servers 


processor servers 


servers 


servers 
Hyper-Threading 


Features 


Intel NetBurst micro- 


Data Flow Analysis, 


Hyper-Threading 


Hyper-Threading 


Hyper-Threading 




architecture, SSE2, 


Speculative 


technology, Extended 


technology, Extended 


technology, Extended 


technology, Extended 




SSE3, HT Technology, 


Execution, Non- 


Memory 64 Tech- 


Memory 64 Tech- 


Memory 64 Tech- 


Memory 64 Tech- 




128-bit floating-point port, 


Blocking Level 1 


nology, Demand 


nology, Demand 


nology, Demand 


nology, Demand 




thermal monitoring, BIST, 


Cache, SSE 3, DIB 


Based Switching with 


Based Switching with 


Based Switching with 


Based Switching with 




IEEE 1149.1 standard 


(Dual Independent 


Enhanced Intel 


Enhanced Intel 


Enhanced Intel 


Enhanced Intel 




test access port and 


Bus) 


SpeedStep Tech- 


SpeedStep Tech- 


SpeedStep Tech- 


SpeedStep Tech- 


Number Of CPUs 


boundary scan 




nology, SSE3 


nology, SSE3 


nology, SSE3 


nology, SSE3 












Supported 


1 


1 


1,2 


1,2 


2 


2 



188 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




For additional chart information on laptop CPUs and a road map of upcoming Intel 
chips, see the online version of this article (www.cpumag.com/modder3/intel). 



1 Processor Chart (Listed In Reverse Chronological Order) 1 


Processor Family 
Product Name 
Clock Speed 
Code Name 


Xeon 


Celeron D 


Celeron D 


Celeron D 


Celeron D 


Celeron D 

315 

2.26GHz 

Prescott 

N/A 

533MHz 

256KB L2 

Socket 478 

90nm 

DDR SDRAM 


N/A 


335 


330 


325 


320 


2.8GHz 


2.80GHz 


2.66GHz 


2.53GHz 


2.40GHz 


Nocona 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Date Of Introduction 


June 28, 2004 


June 24, 2004 


June 24, 2004 


June 24, 2004 


June 24, 2004 


System Bus (MHz) 


800MHz 


533MHz 


533MHz 


533MHz 


533MHz 


Cache 


1MBL2 


256KB L2 


256KB L2 


256KB L2 


256KB L2 


Socket Type 


Socket 603 


Socket 775/478 


Socket 775/478 


Socket 775/478 


Socket 478 


Mnfr Technology 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


Supported Memory 


dual-channel DDR 


DDR SDRAM 


DDR SDRAM 


DDR SDRAM 


DDR SDRAM 




and DDR2 














(depending on chipset) 










value PCs 

Data Flow Analysis, 


Target Market 


dual-processor servers 


value PCs 


value PCs 


value PCs 


value PCs 


Features 


Hyper-Threading 


Data Flow Analysis, 


Data Flow Analysis, 


Data Flow Analysis, 


Data Flow Analysis, 




technology, Extended 


Speculative 


Speculative 


Speculative 


Speculative 


Speculative 




Memory 64 Technology, 


Execution, 


Execution, 


Execution, 


Execution, 


Execution, 




Demand Based 


Non-Blocking 


Non-Blocking 


Non-Blocking 


Non-Blocking 


Non-Blocking 




Switching with 


Level 1 Cache, 


Level 1 Cache, 


Level 1 Cache, 


Level 1 Cache, 


Level 1 Cache, 




Enhanced Intel 


Streaming SIMD 


Streaming SIMD 


Streaming SIMD 


Streaming SIMD 


Streaming SIMD 




SpeedStep 


Extensions 3, DIB 












Technology, SSE3 


(Dual Independent Bus) Independent Bus (DIB) 


Independent Bus (DIB) 


Independent Bus (DIB) 


Independent Bus (DIB) 


Number Of CPUs 












Supported 
Processor Family 


2 


1 


1 


1 


1 


1 

Pentium 4 

520 

2.8GHz 

Prescott 

June 21, 2004 

800MHz 

1MBL2 

Socket 775 

90nm 

dual-channel DDR 


Pentium 4 Extreme Ed. 


Pentium 4 


Pentium 4 


Pentium 4 


Pentium 4 


Product Name 
Clock Speed 
Code Name 


N/A 


560 


550 


540 


530 


3.4GHz 


3.6GHz 


3.4GHz 


3.2GHz 


3GHz 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Prescott 


Date Of Introduction 
System Bus (MHz) 
Cache 


June 21, 2004 


June 21 , 2004 


June 21, 2004 


June 21 , 2004 


June 21, 2004 


800MHz 


800MHz 


800MHz 


800MHz 


800MHz 


512KB L2, 2MB L3 


1MBL2 


1MBL2 


1MBL2 


1MBL2 


Socket Type 
Mnfr Technology 
Supported Memory 


Socket 775 


Socket 775 


Socket 775 


Socket 775 


Socket 775 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


dual-channel DDR 


dual-channel DDR 


dual-channel DDR 


dual-channel DDR 


dual-channel DDR 




PC3200/PC2700/ 


PC3200/PC2700/ 


PC3200/PC2700/ 


PC3200/PC2700/ 


PC3200/PC2700/ 


PC3200/PC2700/ 




PC2100/PC1600 


PC2100/PC1600 


PC2100/PC1600 


PC2100/PC1600 


PC2100/PC1600 


PC2100/PC1600 
Desktop PCs and 


Target Market 


high-end gaming 


Desktop PCs and 


Desktop PCs and 


Desktop PCs and 


Desktop PCs and 




systems 


entry-level workstations entry-level workstations entry-level workstations entry-level workstations 


entry-level workstations 
Intel NetBurst micro- 


Features 


Intel NetBurst micro- 


Intel NetBurst micro- 


Intel NetBurst micro- 


Intel NetBurst micro- 


Intel NetBurst micro- 




architecture, SSE2, 


architecture, SSE2, 


architecture, SSE2, 


architecture, SSE2, 


architecture, SSE2, 


architecture, SSE2, 




SSE3, HT 


SSE3, HT 


SSE3, HT 


SSE3, HT 


SSE3, HT 


SSE3, HT 




Technology, 


Technology, 


Technology, 


Technology, 


Technology, 


Technology, 




128-bit floating point 


128-bit floating point 


128-bit floating point 


128-bit floating point 


128-bit floating point 


128-bit floating point 




port, thermal 


port, thermal 


port, thermal 


port, thermal 


port, thermal 


port, thermal 




monitoring, BIST, 


monitoring, BIST, 


monitoring, BIST, 


monitoring, BIST, 


monitoring, BIST, 


monitoring, BIST, 




IEEE 1149.1 standard 


IEEE 1149.1 standard 


IEEE 1149.1 standard 


IEEE 1149.1 standard 


IEEE 1149.1 standard 


IEEE 1149.1 standard 




test access port and 


test access port and 


test access port and 


test access port and 


test access port and 


test access port and 




boundary scan 


boundary scan 


boundary scan 


boundary scan 


boundary scan 


boundary scan 


Number Of CPUs 












Supported 


1 


1 


1 


1 


1 


1 












1 



CPU / PCIVIodder 189 



AMD CPU Reference 



New CPUs Present & Future 



At press time, AMD's Athlon 64s are slowly transitioning 
to a 90nm die, while AMD's bargain-segment Sempron 
is taking over for the Athlon XP, which has been slated for 



oblivion. AMD has also introduced several new mobile proces- 
sors since our last update. 

Compiled by Andrew Leibman 



Processor Chart (Listed In Reverse Chronological Order) ' 


Processor Family 

Model Name 
Code Name 
Date Of Introduction 


Mobile Sempron 


Sempron 


Sempron 


Sempron 


3000+ 


2200+ 


2300+ 


3000+ 


Senora 


Thoroughbred, Thorton 


Thoroughbred 


Barton 


Nov. 23, 2004 


Nov. 2, 2004 


Oct. 29, 2004 


Oct. 29, 2004 


Memory Controller Bit Width 


64-bit Memory 


32-bit Memory Controller 


32-bit Memory Controller 


32-bit Memory Controller 


Clock Speed 


1.8GHz 


1.5GHz 


1.58GHz 


2GHz 


FSB 

System Bus (effective) 
Cache 


1600MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


400MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


128KB L2 


256KB L2 


256KB L2 


512KB L2 


Socket Type 
Process Technology 
Transistors (in millions) 


Socket 754 


Socket A 


Socket A 


Socket A 


90nm 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


68.6 


37.5 


37.5 


37.5 


Supported Memory 


PC3200/PC2700/PC2100/ 
PC1600SODIMMS 


DDR PC3200/PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


DDR PC3200/PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


DDR PC3200/PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


Target Market 


thin and light notebooks 


value PCs 


value PCs 


value PCs 


Features 

Number of CPUs Supported 
Processor Family 


built-in virus protection when 
used with SP2, AMD 
PowerNow! advanced power 
management technology, 
3DNowl, 802.11a, b, 
and g compatibility 


HyperTransport technology, 
MMX, SSE, 3DNow!, 
3DNow!+ 


HyperTransport technology, 
MMX, SSE, 3DNow!, 
3DNow!+ 


HyperTransport technology, 
MMX, SSE, 3DNow!, 
3DNow!+ 


1 


1 


1 


1 


Athlon 64 FX 


Athlon 64 


Sempron 


Mobile Athlon 64 


Model Name 
Code Name 


FX-55 


4000+ 


2600+ 


3000+ 


ClawHammer 


ClawHammer 


Thoroughbred 


Oakville 


Date Of Introduction 
Memory Controller Bit Width 
Clock Speed 
FSB 


Oct. 19,2004 


Oct. 19, 2004 


Sept. 30, 2004 


Sept. 20, 2004 


128-bit Memory 


128-bit Memory Controller 


32-bit Memory Controller 


64-bit Memory 


2.6GHz 


2.4GHz 


1.83GHz 


2GHz 


2000MHz 


2000MHz 


333MHz 


1600MHz 


System Bus (effective) 


400MHz 


400MHz 


333MHz 


400MHz 


Cache 


1MB L2, 128KB L1 


1MB L2, 128KB L1 


256KB L2 


512KB L2 


Socket Type 
Process Technology 


Socket 939 


Socket 939 


Socket A 


Socket 754 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


90nm 


Transistors (in millions) 


105.9 


105.9 


37.5 


68.5 


Supported Memory 


unbuffered PC3200/ 

PC2700/ 

PC2100/PC1600 


unbuffered PC3200/ 

PC2700/ 

PC2100/PC1600 


DDR PC3200/ 

PC2700/ 

PC2100/PC1600 


V 

PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


Target Market 
Features 


gaming and 
graphics systems 


desktops and 
workstations 


value PCs 


thin and light 
notebooks 


dual-channel memory, 64-bit, 
built-in virus protection when 
used with SP2, 
HyperTransport link, 
3DNowl, SSE2 


dual-channel memory, 
64-bit, built-in virus protection 
when used with SP2, 
HyperTransport link, 
3DNowl, SSE2 


HyperTransport technology, 
MMX, SSE, 3DNow!, 
3DNow!+ 


Enhanced Virus Protection, 
64-bit, HyperTransport, 
AMD PowerNow! Technology 


Number of CPUs Supported 


1 


1 


1 


1 





190 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




For a roadmap of upcoming AMD chips, see the online version of this article (www.cpumag.com/modder3/amd). 



Processor Chart (Listed In Reverse Chronological Order) ' 


Processor Family 

Model Name 
Code Name 


Sempron 


Sempron 


Sempron 


Sempron 


Athlon 64 


2800+ 


3100+ 


2500+ 


2400+ 


3700+ 


Thoroughbred, Thorton 


Paris 


Thoroughbred 


Thoroughbred 


ClawHammer 


Date Of Introduction 
Memory Controller Bit Width 


Sept. 8, 2004 


Sept. 1,2004 


Sept. 1,2004 


Sept. 1,2004 


Aug. 17,2004 


32-bit Memory Controller 


64-bit Memory Controller 32-bit Memory Controller 


32-bit Memory Controller 64-bit Memory Controller 


Clock Speed 
FSB 


2GHz 


1.8GHz 


1.75GHz 


1 ,67GHz 


2.4GHz 


333MHz 


1600MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


1600MHz 


System Bus (effective) 

Cache 

Socket Type 


333MHz 


400MHz 


333MHz 


333MHz 


400MHz 


256KB L2 


256KB L2 


256KB L2 


256KB L2 


1MBL2 


Socket A 


Socket 754 


Socket A 


Socket A 


Socket 754 


Process Technology 
Transistors (in millions) 
Supported Memory 

Target Market 
Features 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


130nm 


37.5 


68.5 


37.5 


37.5 


105.9 


DDR PC3200/PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


DDR PC3200/PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


DDR PC3200/PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


DDR PC3200/PC2700/ 
PC2100/PC1600 


unbuffered 

PC3200/PC2700/ 

PC2100/PC1600 


value PCs 


value PCs 


value PCs 


value PCs 


desktop-replacement 
notebooks 


HyperTransport 
technology, MMX, 
SSE, 3DNowl, 
3DNow!+ 


HyperTransport 
Technology, 
Cool'n'Quiet technology, 
NX-bit, MMX, SSE, 
SSE2, 3DNow!, 
3DNow!+ 


HyperTransport 
technology, MMX, 
SSE, 3DNowl, 
3DNow!+ 


HyperTransport 
technology, MMX, 
SSE, 3DNow!, 
3DNow!+ 


dual-channel memory, 
64-bit, built-in virus 
protection when used 
with SP2, Hyper- 
Transport link, 3DNow!, 
SSE2, PowerNow! 
technology 


Number of CPUs Supported 
Processor Family 


1 


1 


1 


1 


1 


Low Power 
Mobile Athlon 64 


Low Power 
Mobile Athlon 64 


Low Power 
Mobile Athlon 64 


Mobile Athlon 64 


Mobile Athlon XP-M 


Model Name 


3000+ 


2800+ 


2700+ 


3400+ 


2200+ 


Code Name 


Oakville 


Oakville 


Oakville 


Clawhammer 


Barton 


Date Of Introduction 

Memory Controller Bit Width 

Clock Speed 

FSB 

System Bus (effective) 


Aug. 17,2004 


Aug. 17,2004 


Aug. 17, 2004 


July 19, 2004 


July 19, 2004 


64-bit Memory Controller 


64-bit Memory Controller 64-bit Memory Controller 


64-bit Memory Controller 


32-bit Memory Controller 


2GHz 


1.8GHz 


1.6GHz 


2.2GHz 


1.8GHz 


1600MHz 


1600MHz 


1600MHz 


1600MHz 


266MHz 


400MHz 


400MHz 


400MHz 


400MHz 


266MHz 


Cache 
Socket Type 
Process Technology 


512KB L2, 128KB L1 


512KB L2, 128KB L1 


512KB L2, 128KB L1 


1MB L2, 128KB L1 


1MB L2, 128KB L1 


Socket 754 


Socket 754 


Socket 754 


Socket 754 


Socket A 


90nm 


90nm 


90nm 


130nm 


130nm 


Transistors (in millions) 


68.5 


68.5 


68.5 


105.9 


37.5 


Supported Memory 


unbuffered PC3200/ 
PC2700/PC2100/PC1600 


unbuffered PC3200/ 
PC2700/PC2100/PC1600 


unbuffered PC3200/ 
PC2700/PC2100/PC1600 


unbuffered PC3200/ 
PC2700/PC2100/PC1600 


unbuffered PC3200/ 
PC2700/PC2100/PC1600 


Target Market 
Features 


thin and light notebooks 


thin and light notebooks 


thin and light notebooks 


notebook PCs 


ultra-portable and 
tablet notebooks 


integrated northbridge, 
HyperTransport support, 
64-bit support, integrated 
MCT, PowerNow! 
technology, 3DNow!, 
SSE2, 35W power 
consumption 


integrated northbridge, 
HyperTransport support, 
64-bit support, integrated 
MCT, PowerNow! 
technology, 3DNow!, 
SSE2, 35W power 
consumption 


integrated northbridge, 
HyperTransport support, 
64-bit support, integrated 
MCT, PowerNow! 
technology, 3DNow!, 
SSE2, 35W power 
consumption 


Enhanced Virus 
Protection, 64-bit, 
HyperTransport, AMD 
PowerNow! 
Technology 


low-power, AMD 
PowerNow! for longer 
battery life, 3DNow! 


Number of CPUs Supported 


1 


1 


1 


1 


1 





CPU / PC Modder 191 



Intel-Compatible Chipset 

Reference 

New Technologies Fuel A Flurry Of Chipset Introductions 



We've seen an explosion of new Intel-compatible chipsets in the past six 
months. Thanks to relatively new technologies, such as PCI-E xl6 and 
DDR2, chipset manufacturers have begun to eagerly bring new north- 
bridge and southbridge chips to the market. On Nov. 19, 2004, Intel and NVIDIA 
announced an agreement that will let NVIDIA design Intel-compatible chipsets. Expect 
to see a major announcement from NVIDIA in the coming months. 

Compiled by Kylee Dickey 












j^H 


J J 




Intel 

925XE Express 


Intel 

925X Express 


Intel 

91 5G Express 


Intel 

91 5GV Express 


Intel 

91 5P Express 


Code Name 

Date Of Introduction 


Alderwood 


Alderwood 


Grantsdale 


Grantsdale 


Grantsdale 


Nov. 1 , 2004 


June 21, 2004 


June 21, 2004 


June 21, 2004 


June 21, 2004 


Compatible Intel 
Processors 


P4EE or P4 
(90nm, LGA775) 


P4EE or P4 (LGA775) 


P4EE or P4 (LGA775) 


P4 (LGA775) 


P4EE or P4 (LGA775) 


Target Market 
Northbridge 


Performance and 
mainstream desktops 


Performance desktops 


Mainstream desktops 


Mainstream desktops 


Mainstream desktops 


i925XE 


i925X 


i915G 


i915GV 


i915P 


System Bus 


1066/800MHZ 


800MHz 


800/533MHz 


800/533MHZ 


800/533MHz 


Memory Controller 
Supported Memory 

Integrated Graphics 


82925XE MCH 


82925X MCH 


8291 5G MCH 


82915GGMCH 


8291 5P MCH 


Up to 4GB of dual-channel 
non-ECC DDR2-533/400 


Up to 4GB of dual- 
channel ECC/non-ECC 
DDR2-533/400 


Up to 4GB of dual-channel non-ECC DDR2-500/433 
(800MHz FSB) or DDR400/333 (800/533MHz FSB) 


N/A 


N/A 


Intel Graphics Media 
Accelerator 900 (with 
HDTV and LCD wide- 
screen options and 
dual-monitor support) 


Intel Graphics Media 
Accelerator 900 (with 
HDTV and LCD wide- 
screen options) 


N/A 


External Graphics 
HT Support 
Southbridge 


PCI-E x1 6 


PCI-E x1 6 


PCI-E x1 6 


N/A 


PCI-E x1 6 


Yes 


Yes 


Yes 


Yes 


Yes 


ICH6 or ICH6R 


ICH6 or ICH6R 


ICH6orlCH6R 


ICH6orlCH6R 


ICH6 or ICH6R 


PCI Support 


four PCI-E x1 


four PCI-E x1 


four PCI-E x1 


four PCI-E x1 


four PCI-E x1 


IDE Support 


UDMAATA100 


UDMAATA100 


UDMAATA100 


UDMAATA100 


UDMAATA100 


SATA 


Up to four SATA 150 
ports 


Up to four SATA 150 
ports 


Up to four SATA 150 

ports 


Up to four SATA 150 
ports 


Up to four SATA 150 

ports 


USB 
Audio 


Up to eight Hi-Speed 
USB ports 


Up to eight Hi-Speed 
USB ports 


Up to eight Hi-Speed 
USB ports 


Up to eight Hi-Speed 
USB ports 


Up to eight Hi-Speed 
USB ports 


Intel High Definition Audio, 
AC97 20-bit audio 


Intel High Definition 
Audio, AC'97 20-bit audio 


Intel High Definition Intel High Definition Audio, 
Audio, AC'97 20-bit audio AC'97 20-bit audio 


Intel High Definition 
Audio, AC'97 20-bit audio 


Network Support 


LAN MAC, GbE 


LAN MAC, GbE 


LAN MAC, GbE 


LAN MAC, GbE 


LAN MAC, GbE 


Storage Technology 


Intel Matrix Storage 
(with ICH6R southbridge) 


Intel Matrix Storage 
(with ICH6R southbridge) 


Intel Matrix Storage Intel Matrix Storage 
(with ICH6R southbridge) (with ICH6R southbridge) 


Intel Matrix Storage 
(with ICH6R southbridge) 



192 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



SiS 
SiS 649 


Code Name 

Date Of Introduction 


N/A 


Aug. 3, 2004 


Compatible Intel Processors 


P4 or Celeron 


Target Market 


Mainstream desktops 


Northbridge 


SiS649 


System Bus 


800/533/400MHZ 


Memory Controller 


SiS649 


Supported Memory 


Up to 4GB of single-channel 
non-ECC DDR2-533/400 or 
DDR400/333/266 


Integrated Graphics 


N/A 


External Graphics 


PCI-Ex16 


HT Support 


Yes 


Southbridge 


SiS965 


PCI Support 


twoPCI-Ex1,sixPCI2.3 


IDE Support 


ATA 133/1 00/66 


SATA 


Up to four SATA 150 ports 


USB 


Up to eight USB ports 

(two Hi-Speed USB and three 

Full-Speed USB) 


Audio 


AC'97 v2.3 8-channel audio 


Network Support 


GbE 


Storage Technology 


RAID 0,1, 0+1, and JBOD 



^^^^^^^^^^^^^^Htusm^^^^^^^^^^^^^Hi 


Code Name 


N/A 


Date Of Introduction 


Fall 2004 


Compatible Intel Processors 


P4 and Celeron 


Target Market 


Performance and 
mainstream desktops 


Northbridge 


N/A 


System Bus 


Up to 800MHz 


Memory Controller 


RX330 


Supported Memory 
Integrated Graphics 


Up to 4GB of dual-channel, 
128-bit DDR400 


N/A 


External Graphics 


AGP8X 


HT Support 


Yes 


Southbridge 
PCI Support 


N/A 


N/A 


IDE Support 


ATA 100 (two independent channels, 
supporting modes to 4) 


SATA 


Up to two SATA ports 


USB 


Up to eight Hi-Speed 
USB ports 


Audio 


5.1-channel audio 


Network Support 


3-COM Ethernet controller 


Storage Technology 


RAID 





Intel 
910GL 


Intel 
E7525 


Intel 
E7520 


Intel 
E7320 


Code Name 

Date Of Introduction 


Grantsdale 


Tumwater 


Lindenhurst 


Lindenhurst-VS 


June 21, 2004 


June 28, 2004 


June 28, 2004 


June 28, 2004 


Compatible Intel 
Processors 


P4, Celeron, or Celeron D 
(LGA775 or FCPGA478) 


Single or dual Xeon 
(800MHz FSB, 
1MB L2 cache) 


Single or dual Xeon 
(800MHz FSB, 
1MB L2 cache) 


Single or dual Xeon 
(800MHz FSB, 
1MB L2 cache) 


Target Market 
Northbridge 


Mainstream desktops 


Workstations 


Servers 


Servers 


i910GL 


E7525 


E7520 


E7320 


System Bus 
Memory Controller 
Supported Memory 

Integrated Graphics 

External Graphics 
HT Support 
Southbridge 


533MHz 


800MHz 


800MHz 


800MHz 


82910GLGMCH 


E7525 


E7520 


E7320 


Up to 2GB of dual- 
channel non-ECC 
DDR400/333 


Up to 16GB of dual- 
channel ECC DDR2-400 
or DDR333 


Up to 16GB dual-channel ECC DDR2-400, 

1 6GB dual-channel ECC DDR333, or 32GB 

dual-channel ECC DDR266 


Intel Graphics Media 
Accelerator 900 (with 
HDTV and LCD 
widescreen options) 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


N/A 


PCI-E x16 


three PCI-E x8 interfaces 


one PCI-E x8 interface 


Yes 


Yes 


Yes 


Yes 


ICH6orlCH6R 


ICH5-Ror6300ESB 


ICH5-R or 6300ESB 


ICH5-Ror6300ESB 


PCI Support 


four PCI-E x1 


single 32-bit segme 
PC 


it (ICH5-R and 6300ESB) or singl 
l-X segment (6300ESB only) 


a 64-bit 66MHz 


IDE Support 
SATA 


UDMAATA100 


two-channel UltraATA 


(with ICH5-R) or UDMA ATA (with 6300ESB) 


Up to four SATA 
1 50 ports 


Up to two SATA 
150 ports 


Up to two SATA 
150 ports 


Up to two SATA 
150 ports 


USB 


Up to eight Hi-Speed 
USB ports 


Up to eight Hi-Speed USB ports (with ICH5-R) or up to four 
Hi-Speed USB ports (with 6300ESB) 


Audio 


Intel High Definition 
Audio, AC'97 20-bit audio 


AC'97 2.3 compliant (w 


th ICH5-R) or AC'97 2.2 compliant (with 6300ESB) 


Network Support 


LAN MAC, GbE 


Integrated 10/100 LAN MAC (with ICH5-R only) i 


Storage Technology 


Intel Matrix Storage 
(with ICH6R southbridge) 


RAID 0,1 


RAID 0, 1 


RAID 0,1 



CPU / PC Modder 193 



AMD-Compatible 
Chipset Reference 

New Chipsets From ATI, NVIDIA, ULi & VIA 



A handful of AMD-compatible 
chipsets have debuted since 
the last PC Modder issue. The 
greatest attention grabbers have been 
NVIDIA's latest offerings, an Ultra edi- 
tion of its nForce 3 MCP and a pair of 
nForce 4 MCPs. As with the Intel-com- 
patible chipsets, the AMD-compatible 
products are also moving away from 
AGP and toward PCI-E. The following 
charts list the most recent chipsets from 
ATI, NVIDIA, ULi, and VIA. 







Compiled by Kylee Dickey 




ATI 


ATI 


NVIDIA 




XPRESS 200P 


XPRESS 200 


nForce 4 Ultra (MCP) 


Codename 


RX480 


RX480 


CK8-04 


Date Of Introduction 


Nov. 8, 2004 


Nov. 8, 2004 


Oct. 19,2004 


Compatible AMD Processors 
Target Market 


Socket 754 and 939 
Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX, 
and Sempron 
Mainstream desktops 


Socket 754 and 939 
Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX, 
and Sempron 
Mainstream desktops 


939-pin Athlon 64 or 
Athlon 64 FX 

High-end, multimedia, 
and gaming desktops 


Northbridge Features 


N/A (single-chip) 


N/A (single-chip) 


N/A (single-chip MCP) 


System Bus 


1GHZ/800MHz 


1GHZ/800MHz 


N/A - Determined by 
processor 


Memory Support 
Integrated Graphics 

External Graphics 


GDDRand DDR support 
N/A 

PCI-E x1 6 


GDDRand DDR support 

3D Graphics: DirectX 9.0 
with Vertex Shader 2.0, 
Pixel Shader 2.0, and 
support for resolutions up 
to 2,536x2,536 
PCI-E x1 6 


N/A - Determined by 

processor 

N/A 

PCI-E x1 6 


HT Support 


Yes 


Yes 


Yes 


Southbridge Features 
PCI Support 
IDE Support 


N/A (single-chip) 
seven slots (PCI 2.3) 
N/A 


N/A (single-chip) 
seven slots (PCI 2.3) 
N/A 


N/A (single-chip) 

six slots (PCI 2.3) 

Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 


SATA 


Up to four SATA drives 


Up to four SATA drives 


Up to four SATA drives 


USB 


Up to eight Hi-Speed USB 
ports 


Up to eight Hi-Speed USB 
ports 


Up to 10 Hi-Speed USB 
ports 


Audio 
Network Support 


7.1 -channel audio (with 
5.1 -channel support) and 
AC'97 compliance 

GbE 


7.1-channel audio (with 
5.1 -channel support) and 
AC'97 compliance 

GbE 


7.1-channel audio 
(supports 2-, 4-, 6-, 
and 8-channel audio), 
AC'97 2.1 -compliant, and 
dual S/PDIF output 
GbE 


Storage Technology 


RAID 0, 1 


RAID 0, 1 


RAID0, 1,0+1 



194 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 





M etails about upcoming AMD-compatible chipsets were still sketchy at press time. However, the following information about VIA's 
A3 upcoming offerings had emerged. 




Name 


Compatible Processors 


Northbridge Features 


Southbridge Features 




Q4 2004 




VIA K8T890 Pro 


Athlon 64; Opteron; or Sempron 


1GHz HyperTransport bus; single- and 
dual-channel DDR400/333/266; DualGFX 
Express (dual PCI-E); and Ultra V-Link 
interconnect 


N/A - Compatible with 
VT8251 southbridge 


Q4 2004 


VIA K8M890 


Athlon 64; Opteron; or Sempron 


Integrated design; 1GHz HyperTransport 
bus; single- and dual-channel 
DDR400/333/266; DeltaChrome IGP 
integrated graphics with DirectX 9 
support; PCI-E x16; and Ultra V-Link 
interconnect 


N/A - Compatible with 
VT8251 southbridge 



NVIDIA 

nForce 4 SLI (MCP) 

CK8-04 

Oct. 19,2004 
939-pin Athlon 64 or 
Athlon 64 FX 

High-end and multimedia 
desktops 

N/A (single-chip MCP) 



N/A - Determined by 
processor 

N/A - Determined by 

processor 

N/A 



NVIDIA 


nForce 3 Ultra (MCP) 


CK8 


June 1 , 2004 


939-pin Athlon 64 FX 


High-end desktops 



N/A (single-chip MCP) 



N/A - Determined by 
processor 

N/A - Determined by 

processor 

N/A 



ULi 

M1689 (single-chip) 
N/A 

Aug. 31,2004 
K8 CPUs, including 
Semprons 

Mainstream and value 
desktops 

N/A (single-chip) 



N/A - Determined by 
processor 

N/A - Determined by 

processor 

N/A 



ULi 

M1 573 (southbridge) 

N/A 

April 13,2004 
Athlon 64 



Mainstream and value 
desktops 

N/A - Southbridge 
designed to work with 
ATI's PCI Express north- 
bridge chips with integrat- 
ed graphics 
N/A - Determined by 
northbridge 

N/A - Determined by 

northbridge 

N/A - Determined by 

northbridge 



VIA 

K8T890 
K8 PCI-E 

Sept. 24, 2004 
Athlon 64, Opteron, or 
Sempron 

High-performance, main- 
stream, multimedia, and 
gaming desktops 
K8T890 



1 GHz with 16-bit 
HyperTransport link 
(1066MBps Ultra V-Link) 
N/A - Determined by 
processor 
N/A 



PCI-E x16 with SLI support 

Yes 

N/A (single-chip) 

six slots (PCI 2.3) 

Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 

Up to four SATA drives 



Up to 10 Hi-Speed USB 
ports 

7.1 -channel audio 
(supports 2-, 4-, 6-, 
and 8-channel audio), 
AC'97 2.1 -compliant, and 
dual S/PDIF output 
GbE 



RAID0, 1,0+1 



AGP8X/4X with GART 

support 

N/A 

N/A (single-chip) 

six slots (PCI 2.3) 

Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 

Up to four SATA drives 



Up to eight Hi-Speed USB 
ports 

7.1 -channel audio 
(supports 2-, 4-, 6-, 
and 8-channel audio), 
AC'97 2.1 -compliant, and 
S/PDIF output 
GbE, HomePNY2.0PHY 
support, ACR support, and 
CNR support 
RAID0, 1,0+1 



AGP8X/4X 

Yes 

N/A (single-chip) 

six slots 

Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 

Up to two SATA drives 



Up to eight USB ports (two 
Hi-Speed USB and six 
Full-Speed USB) 
6-channel AC'97 audio 



10/1 00Mbps Fast Ethernet 
MAC 

RAID 0, 1 



N/A - Determined by 

northbridge 

N/A - Determined by 

northbridge 

M1573 

seven slots (PCI 2.3) 

Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 

Up to four SATA drives 



Up to eight USB ports 
(two Hi-Speed USB and 
six Full-Speed USB) 
Azalia audio 



10/1 00Mbps Fast Ethernet 
MAC 

RAID0, 1,0+1 



PCI-E x1 6 



Yes 



VT8237 
six slots 

Up to four ATA1 33/1 00/66 

devices 

Support for two SATA 150 

drives, SATALite support 

for two additional SATA 

drives 

Up to eight Hi-Speed USB 

ports 

VIA Vinyl 6-channel 

AC'97 audio and VIA Vinyl 

Gold 8-channel audio 

through PCI companion 

controller 

VIA Velocity GbE through 

PCI companion controller 

RAID0, 1,0+1, and JBOD 



CPU / PC Modder 195 



Compiled by Andrew Leibman and Vince Cogley 



Mobo Sampler 

18 Manufacturers' Top Motherboards 



ABIT FatalIty AA8XE 



The Fatality AA8XE is ABIT's premier 
motherboard in the Fatality series of high- 
performance gaming components, named for 
gamer and enthusiast Johnathan "Fatality" 
Wendel. This socket 775 board supports Intel 
Pentium 4 processors with Hyper-Threading and 
FSB speeds up to 1066MHz. Intel's 925XE 
northbridge handles DDR2 memory traffic, 
while the ICH6R southbridge handles the board's 
peripherals, ports, and multimedia communica- 
tion. The Fatality AA8XE supports 

4GB of memory, but don't cram 184- 
pin DDR modules on this board; the 
Fatality AA8XE features four DDR2 
only 240-pin sockets. 

The rear I/O panel sports four Hi- DUAL OTES 
Speed USB (2.0) ports, with six more 
available via internal headers. The 
Fatality AA8XE has a FireWire (400) 
port on the rear I/O panel and capacity 
for two more with internal headers. 



Fatality AA8XE users will love the board's Dual 
LAN capabilities and the integrated 8-channel 
AudioMAX audio controller. The ICH6R south- 
bridge manages four SATA ports, which you can 
configure for RAID 0, 1, or 0+1. 

ABIT has gone above and beyond with this 
gamer-centric board, including an elaborate 
OTES (Outside Thermal Exhaust System) for 
active northbridge, voltage regulator, and RAM 
module cooling. ▲ 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



SATA RAID 



POST CODE DISPLAY 




ABIT Fatality A A8XE 


Socket Type 


Socket 775 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 925XE, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


P4 with 
Hyper-Threading 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-Ex16slot 


PCI Slots 


3, plus 2 PCI-E 
x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 

0/1/0+1) 


IDE 


ATA/133/100 


USB Ports 


4, plus 6 
optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


3 (FireWire 400) 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 


Integrated 


8-channel 


Audio 

Integrated 

Graphics 


AudioMax, S/PDIF 
N/A 


Other Features 


Dual OTES, Guru 
LCD display, 
Onboard LEDs 


Manufacturer 


ABIT 


Phone 


(510)623-0500 


URL 


www.abit-usa.com 


Price 


N/A 




tV.iV^^^^^^^ 


Socket Type 


Socket 939 AMD 


Chipset 


NVIDIA nForce4 
Ultra 


Processor 
Support 


Athlon 64 FX & 
Athlon 64 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR400/333 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-E x1 6 slot 


PCI Slots 


2, plus 3 PCI-E x1 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0/1/0+1) 


IDE 


ATA/133/100 


USB Ports 
optional 


4 (USB 2.0), plus 6 


FireWire Ports 
(FireWire 400) 


1 , plus 2 optional 


LAN 


Gigabit Ethernet 


Integrated Audio 


8-channel 
AudioMAX, S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


POST Code Display 


Manufacturer 


ABIT 


Phone 


(510)623-0500 


URL 


www.abit-usa.com 


Price 


$150 



ABITAN8 



The Fatality AN8 wasn't available at press 
time, but the AN8 has plenty of features 
that appeal to the enthusiast at a more main- 
stream price. The AN 8 features the nForce4 Ultra 
single-chip chipset and supports 939-pin Athlon 
64 and Athlon 64 FX processors. ABIT equips 
this board with four 184-pin DDR slots, which 
handle 4GB of DDR400 memory. The AN8 fea- 
tures a PCI-E xl6 slot for next-gen VGA cards 

and three more PCI-E xl slots for 

expansion cards. Use the two PCI slots 
for any old-school peripherals you can't 
live without. 

The rear I/O panel features four 
Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports, while 
internal headers allow for six more 
USB 2.0 devices. The AN8 has a sin- 
gle FireWire 400 port on the rear I/O 
panel. Two FireWire 400 ports are 
available via internal headers. An 



RJ45 port on the rear I/O panel provides 
simultaneous 10/100/1000 Gigabit networking 
capabilities. ABIT's AudioMAX technology 
features a daughter card for the 8-channel sur- 
round-sound audio jacks. 

The POST Code Display feature is an 
onboard LED display that shows you the nu- 
meric result of the system's power on self test 
and helps with advanced troubleshooting. ▲ 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



NVIDIA NF0RCE4 ULTRA 



SATA RAID 



POST CODE DISPLAY 




196 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



AOpen i855GMEm-LFS 



A Open has combined several notebook 
technologies with several desktop features 
to deliver the i855GMEm-LFS hybrid mother- 
board. This motherboard supports Intel 
Pentium M processors with the 479-pin socket 
and brings Centrino mobile technology to the 
desktop market. This hybrid supports FSB 
speeds up to 400MHz and up to 2GB of 
DDR333 memory between the two 184-pin 
DIMM sockets. The Intel 855GME also pro- 
vides the integrated graphics controller, which 
balances the installed memory between graph- 
ics and the system and delivers 32-bit 

3D and 2D graphics at 250MHz, Bi- 
Cubic Filtering, and Video Mixer 
Rendering. AOpen has also included 
an AGP 4X slot for a standalone 
video card. 

The i855GMEm-LFS features four 
built-in Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports and 
headers for two more optional ports. 
AOpen also includes FireWire headers 
on the board for two optional 400Mbps 



ports. The integrated Marvell PCI LAN chip 
provides Dual Gigabit networking capabilities, 
while the integrated Realtek AC'97 codec delivers 
6-channel surround sound. The hybrid also has 
two SATA ports for RAID and 1 arrays. 

AOpen includes AOConfig, which is a utility 
that provides information in a Windows en- 
vironment about the OS, motherboard, CPU, 
RAM, and BIOS version, as well as PCI and 
IDE devices. The i855GMEm-LFS should 
appeal to energy- and heat-conscious enthusiasts, 
especially with its micro ATX form factor. ▲ 



AOpen !855GMEm-LFS 



REALTEK 6-CHANNEL AUDIO 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



INTEL 855GME 



SATA RAID 




Socket Type 


Socket 479 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 855GME, 
ICH4-M 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Pentium M 
(Dothan/Banias) 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR333 


RAM Slots 


2 
AGP4X 


Graphics Bus 


PCI Slots 


3 


SATA Ports 


2 (RAID 0/1) 


IDE 


ATA/100 


USB Ports 


4, plus 2 optional 


FireWire Ports 


2 optional (FireWire 
400) 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 


Integrated Audio 


6-channel AC'97, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


Intel 855GME 


Other Features 


AOConfig Utility, 
CPU Over Current 
Protection (OCP) 


Manufacturer 


AOpen 


Phone 


(888) 972-6736 


URL 


usa.aopen.com 


Price 


N/A 




AOpen n250a-FR 


Socket Type 


Socket 754 AMD 


Chipset 


NVIDIA nForce3 
250Gb 


Processor 
Support 


Athlon 64 


RAM Support 


3GB DDR400 


RAM Slots 


3 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


SATA Ports 


4 SATA (RAID 
0/1/0+1/5) 


IDE 


ATA/133 


USB Ports 


4, plus 2 more 
optional 


FireWire Ports 


2 optional (FireWire 
400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated Audio 


6-channel AC'97, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


AOconfig utility, 
EzClock utility, 
Norton Antivirus 


Manufacturer 


AOpen 


Phone 


(888) 972-6736 


URL 


usa.aopen.com 


Price 


$109 



AOpen n250a-FR 

A Open's high-performance motherboard for 
AMD CPUs is the n250a-FR, built on 
NVIDIAs nForce3 250Gb chipset, which fea- 
tures a single chip rather than discrete north- 
and southbridges. The board supports 754-pin 
Athlon 64 processors and Sempron processors 
with the latest BIOS download. The n250a-FR 
manages FSB speeds up to 800MHz and up to 
3GB of DDR400 memory in the three DIMM 
sockets. 

The rear I/O panel of the n250a-FR features 

four Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports. 

Headers on the motherboard also pro- 
vide for an additional two ports. 
FireWire support comes in the form 
of two headers on the motherboard, 
each capable of supporting a single 
400Mbps port. A Realtek LAN con- 
troller provides the n250a-FR with 
Gigabit networking. This board also 
features an ALC650 codec, which pro- 
vides 6-channel surround sound using 
the three standard line-jacks. The IDE 



controller can also handle devices up to ATA 
133. The four onboard SATA ports support 
RAID 0, 1,0+1, and 5 configurations. 

AOpen bundled Norton Antivirus with the 
n250a-FR, as well as several useful utilities. The 
AOConfig utility lets users determine com- 
ponent information while in Windows. The 
EzClock utility is designed to overclock your 
components in a Windows environment, rather 
than from the BIOS, which saves your system 
the stress of booting under clocked settings. ▲ 



6-CHANNEL AUDIO 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 




SATA RAID 



NVIDIA NF0RCE3 250GB 



CPU / PC Modder 197 



ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe 



ASUS was one of the first manufacturers to 
deliver an nForce4 SLI-based motherboard, 
and the A8N-SLI Deluxe is no rush job. This 
socket 939 enthusiast board supports Athlon 
64/ Athlon 64 FX processors and a maximum of 
2000MHz bus speeds. The A8N-SLI Deluxe fea- 
tures four DIMM sockets for up to 4GB of 
unbuffered ECC or non-ECC DDR400 memory. 
The dual PCI-E xl6 lanes convert to two sym- 
metrical x8 lanes when in SLI, or dual GPU, 

mode. 

Four Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports deco- 
rate the rear I/O panel, while six more 
ports are available via headers. A single 
Fire Wire 400 port adorns the back I/O 
panel, while headers provide another 
port (FireWire 400). The A8N-SLI 
Deluxe also features Dual Gigabit 
Ethernet. The nForce4's integrated 
SATA controller provides RAID 0, 1, 
0+1 and JBOD configurations, while 
the Silicon Image controller handles 



RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5, for eight devices. AI 
Audio supports 8-channel surround sound. 

The Ai NOS (Non-delay Overclocking Sys- 
tem) utility is designed for Windows-based over- 
clocking. NVIDIA's ActiveArmor has integrated 
hardware firewall support for a lag-free and secure 
networking experience. Another feature of the 
nForce4 SLI chipset is the Disk Alert System, 
which shows you the port of a failed SATA drive 
for easy ID and replacement. A 



DUAL PCI-E X1G SLOTS 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



NVIDIA NF0RCE4 SLI 



DUAL SATA 




ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe 


Socket Type 


Socket 939 AMD 


Chipset 

Processor 

Support 


NVIDIA nForce4 SLI 
Athlon 64 FX, Athlon 64 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


Dual PCI-E x1 6 slots 
(x8 in dual mode) 


PCI Slots 


2, plus 2 PCI-E x1 slots 


SATA Ports 
IDE 


8 SATA (4 SATA2), 
RAID 0/1/0+1 
ATA/133/100 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 more optional 


FireWire Ports 


2 (FireWire 400) 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel AC'97, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


ASUS PEG Link, AI 
NOS 


Manufacturer 


ASUS 


Phone 


(502) 995-0883 


URL 


www.asus.com 


Price 


N/A 




ASUS P5AD2-E Premium 


Socket Type 


Socket 775 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 925XE, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


P4 with 
Hyper-Threading 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR2- 
711/533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-E x1 6 slot 


PCI Slots 


3, plus 2 PCI-E x1 
slots 


SATA Ports 


8 SATA, RAID 
0/1/0+1/5/JBOD 


IDE 


UltraDMA 
/1 33/1 00/66 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 optional 


FireWire Ports 


1, plus 2 optional 
(FireWire 400) 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel AC'97, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 
Other Features 


N/A 

CPU Parameter 



ASUS P5AD2-E Premium 



The P5AD2-E Premium is ASUS' most fea- 
ture-rich motherboard at press time. The 
Land Grid Array socket 775 motherboard sup- 
ports Pentium 4 processors with Hyper- 
Threading and FSB speeds up to 1066MHz. 
Intel lists its 925XE chipsets as capable of 
DDR2-533/400, but ASUS claims to have 
improved native support to accept DDR2-711 
memory. The four 240-pin DIMM sockets are 
capable of up to 4GB of DDR2 memory. 

The eight Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports are 

divided evenly between the rear I/O 

panel and internal headers. ASUS 
includes one FireWire 400 port on the 
rear I/O panel and internal headers for 
two more ports with throughput speeds 
up to 800Mbps. Enthusiasts will also 
appreciate the Dual Gigabit LAN and 
integrated 8-channel surround sound 
audio. Two SATA controllers provide 
for eight SATA devices and RAID 0, 1, 
0+1, 5, and JBOD. You can also imple- 
ment a RAID array on the two ATA 
133 channels. 



Intel's PAT (Performance Acceleration 
Technology) effectively manages the memory 
access between the CPU and system memory to 
improve overall system efficiency. ASUS also in- 
cludes the AI Proactive suite of utilities and fea- 
tures, such as the onboard Wi-Fi slot and Stack 
Cool PCB. The AI NOS senses your system load 
and overclocks your settings during more 
demanding sessions. AI Proactive also includes the 
AI NET2 utility, which can diagnose and locate 
faulty LAN connections or bad cables. A 



FIREWIRE 800 



DUAL RAID 



DDR2 MEMORY 




Recall, AI 
Overclocking, Intel 
PAT 



Manufacturer 


ASUS 


Phone 


(502) 995-0883 


URL 


www.asus.com 


Price 


N/A 



198 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Biostar P4TAW Extreme 



Biostar's P4TAW Extreme is its most feature- 
laden motherboard for Intel enthusiasts. 
The socket 775 board has several next-generation 
features, courtesy of the Intel 92 5X northbridge 
and the ICH6RW southbridge. Pentium 4 with 
Hyper-Threading and Celeron CPUs can fill this 
board's LGA socket. The P4TAW supports FSB 
speeds up to 1066MHz and up to 4GB of DDR2 
memory between the four 240-pin DIMM sock- 
ets. The board features one PCI Express slot with 

a fixed xl6 lane and two more PCI-E 

xl slots. Three old-school PCI slots fill 
out the P4TAW Extreme's PBC. 

The ICH6RW is Intel's high-end 
southbridge, which supplies the P4- 
TAW Extreme with RAID 0, 1, and 
0+1 between the four SATA ports. 
The ICH6RW chip also includes Intel 
Wireless Connect Technology, which 
supports a software-based wireless 
access point and router application. 
The Gigabit LAN controller connects 



directly to the PCI-E xl slot, leaving the rear 
I/O panel plenty of room for legacy ports, four 
Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports, and a single 
FireWire 400 port. Five audio jacks and an 
S/PDIF Out audio connector fill out the rest of 
the rear I/O panel. The board also includes 
headers for an additional four Hi-Speed USB 
(2.0) ports and one FireWire 400 port. 
C-Media and Realtek provide 8-channel sur- 
round-sound audio. A 




SPDIF0UT 



PCI-EXPRESSX16SL0T 



DDR? 



Biostar P4TAW Extreme 


Socket Type 


Socket 775 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 925X, ICH6RW 


Processor 
Support 


P4 with 

Hyper-Threading, 

Celeron 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR2 
667/533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-E x16 slot 


PCI Slots 


3, plus 2 PCI-E x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0/1/0+1) 


IDE 


UltraDMA 
/1 00/66/33 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 more optional 


FireWire Ports 


1 , plus 1 optional 
(FireWire 400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel 
ALC880D, S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


Hardware Monitor, 
WarpSpeeder, 
Integrated WAP 


Manufacturer 


Biostar 


Phone 


(626)581-1055 


URL 


www.biostar.com.tw 



Price 



N/A 



Biostar K8NHA Grand 



Biostar's K8NHA Grand is the AMD 
motherboard for enthusiasts and gamers. 
The NVIDIA nForce3 250Gb-based mother- 
board features a single-chip design, which 
replaces the traditional north- and southbridge 
design model. The socket 754 board accepts 
Athlon 64 and Sempron processors. The two 
184-pin DIMM sockets accept up to 2GB of 
DDR400 memory. Biostar includes an AGP 8X 
slot for graphics support and five PCI slots for 

expansion cards. 

A total of eight Hi-Speed USB (2.0) 
ports are available, four on the rear I/O 
panel and four more with the internal 
headers. One FireWire port adorns the 
rear I/O panel, while another port 
attaches to a header on the mother- 
board. The K8NHA Grand also features 
native Gigabit Ethernet and integrated 
6-channel surround sound from the 
Realtek ALC655 controller. Two SATA 
ports provide for RAID 1 and RAID 
configurations for high performance or 
high data security. 



The K8NHA Grand comes with a hardware 
monitoring utility that displays the CPU and 
system fan speeds, CPU voltage, AGP voltage, 
VCore settings, as well as CPU and system tem- 
peratures. The NVIDIA Firewall offers remote 
access, configuration, monitoring, and a com- 
mand line interface. Also included with the re- 
tail version of the K8NHA Grand is the Norton 
Application Pack, which includes Internet Se- 
curity 2003 and Norton Ghost 2003. A 



REALTEK 
6-CHANNEL AUDIO 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 




SATA RAID 



NVIDIA NF0RCE3 250GB 



Biostar K8NHA Grand 


Socket Type 
Chipset 

Processor 
Support 


Socket 754 AMD 

NVIDIA nForce3 

250Gb 

Athlon 64, Sempron 

RAM Support 

2GB DDR400 


RAM Slots 


2 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


SATA Ports 


2 (RAID 0/1) 


IDE 
USB Ports 


UltraDMA 

/1 33/1 00/66/33 

4, plus 4 more optional 


FireWire Ports 


1 , plus 1 optional 
(FireWire 400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


6-channel AC97, 
SPDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


NVIDIA firewall, hard 
ware monitor 


Manufacturer 


Biostar 


Phone 


(626)581-1055 


URL 


www.biostar.com.tw 


Price 


$83 



CPU / PC Modder 199 



Chaintech V925XE ZENITH VE 



Chaintech's enthusiast motherboatd for fans 
of Intel is the V925XE Zenith VE, which 
supports Pentium 4 processors with Hyper- 
Threading. The board supports maximum FSB 
speeds of 1066MHz. As with all Intel 925-based 
motherboards, the V925X only supports DDR2 
memory. Up to 4GB of dual- channel DDR2- 
533 memory can fill the four 240-pin DIMM 
sockets. Chaintech pairs the 925XE northbridge 
with the ICH6R southbridge, which uses Intel's 

RAID technology to provide RAID 

and RAID 1 arrays between the four 
SATA ports. PCI Express graphics 
cards feel right at home in the 
V925X's xl6 slot. Chaintech provides 
two more PCI-E xl and three plain- 
Jane PCI slots. 

The RJ45 connector of the rear I/O 
panel delivers Gigabit Ethernet for 
high-speed networking at up to 
1000Mbps. The rear I/O panel also fea- 
tures four Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports, 



five audio jacks, and an S/PDIF port for digital 
audio output. Speaking of audio, the V925XE 
Zenith VE supports 8-channeI surround sound 
with the integrated Realtek ALC880 chip. 
Headers provide four more USB 2.0 ports, but 
Chaintech left off Fire Wire support. 

The V925XE Zenith VE comes bundled with a 
hardware monitoring utility that allows you to 
monitor system and CPU temperatures, as well as 
the speeds for a system, CPU, and chassis fan. ▲ 



SPDIF0UT 



PCI-EXPRESSX16SLQT 



SATA RAID 




- ^sr*""- 



Chaintech V925XE Zenith VE 


Socket Type 
Chipset 


Socket 775 Intel 
Intel 925X, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


P4 with 
Hyper-Threading 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-E x1 6 slot 


PCI Slots 


3, plus 2 PCI-E x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0/1) 


IDE 


UltraDMA/ 
100/66/33 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 more optional 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel ALC880, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


hardware monitoring, 
native command 
queuing 


Manufacturer 


Chaintech 


Phone 


(510)656-3648 


URL 
www.chaintechusa.com/tw/eng 



Chaintech ZNF3-250 



Chaintech's AMD-based enthusiast board is 
of the socket 754 variety and accepts 
Athlon 64 and Sempron processors. NVIDIA's 
nForce3 250Gb single-chip chipset handles the 
peripheral and component communication and 
features an active chipset fan. The three DIMM 
sockets support up to 2GB of DDR400, 333, or 
266 memory. Chaintech includes an AGP 8X 
slot for a graphics card and five PCI slots for 
other peripherals and add-ons. 

The ZNF3-250 features internal headers 
for four Hi-Speed USB (2.0) and three Fire- 
Wire 400 ports. The rear I/O panel is 

adorned with two USB 2.0 ports. 
The integrated Broadcom controller 
provides Gigabit Ethernet to the 
RJ45 connector of the rear I/O panel. 
The ZNF3-250 includes 8-channel 
surround-sound audio, 24-bit resolu- 
tion, and digital audio output. The 
four Silicon Image controlled SATA 
ports can manage RAID 0, RAID 1, 
and RAID 0+1 arrays. 



The ZNF3-250 features Chaintech's RadEX 
heatpipe and fan assembly for reducing the 
heat output of the power regulation MOS- 
FETS and capacitors. 

The board also features a Chaintech 
Multimedia Riser, which looks like a stunted 
PCI slot and accommodates a Chain-tech 
Multimedia Card for full 8-channel surround- 
sound systems. The board also features a hard- 
ware monitoring utility and NVIDIA's firewall 
software. A 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



RADEX- 



CHAIHTECH 
MULTIMEDIA RISER 



SATA RAID 




Chaintech ZNF3-250 


Socket Type 


Socket 754 AMD 


Chipset 


NVIDIA nForce3 
250Gb 


Processor 
Support 


Athlon 64, Sempron 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


3 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0/1/0+1) 


IDE 


ATA/133/100/66 


USB Ports 


2, plus 4 optional 


FireWire Ports 


3 optional (FireWire 
400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel, S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


NVIDIA firewall, CMR 
slot, hardware 
monitoring 


Manufacturer 


Chaintech 


Phone 


(510)656-3648 


URL 

www.chaintechusa.com/tw/eng 


Price 


$147 



200 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



anxiE 



DFI LANPARTY 925X-T2 



The LANPARTY series of motherboards has 
dominated DFI's enthusiast offerings for a 
while, and the 925X-T2 is just as cutting edge. 
The LGA 775 socket accommodates Pentium 4 
processors with Hyper-Threading, with a maxi- 
mum FSB of 1066MHz. Like other i925 boards, 
the 925X-T2 can only use DDR2 memory. Up 
to 4GB of DDR2-533, or DDR2-400 memory 
can fill the four 240-pin DIMM sockets. DFI 
includes a single xl6 slot for PCI Express graph- 
ics cards, three PCI-E xl slots, and 

three PCI expansion slots. 

Intel's ICH6R southbridge sup- 
ports four SATA ports with 1.5Gbps 
throughput speeds and RAID 0, RAID 
1, and JBOD configurations. Two 
Marvell controllers provide dual 
Gigabit Ethernet for up to 1000Mbps 
of throughput. The rear I/O panel fea- 
tures a total of six Hi-Speed USB (2.0) 
ports, along with a single Fire Wire 400 
port. Headers provide for two USB 2.0 
and two Fire Wire 400 ports. The rear 
I/O panel features the Karajan audio 



card and six audio jacks for 8-channel surround- 
sound systems. S/PDIF in and out ports are also 
on the rear I/O panel, but legacy Serial and 
Parallel ports are absent. 

As with other LANParty boards, the sockets, 
ports, and slots of the 925X-T2 are UV sensi- 
tive. Enthusiasts will appreciate the inclusion of 
CMOS Reloaded, which allows users to reload 
and switch between different overclocked set- 
tings with hotkeys. A 



DF LANPARTY 925X-T2 



DUAL LAN 



PCI-EXPRESSX16SL0T 



DDR2 



SATA RAID 




Socket Type 


Socket 775 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 925X, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Pentium 4 with 
Hyper-Threading 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-E x16 slot 


PCI Slots 


3, plus 3 PCI-E x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


4(RAID0/1/JBOD) 


IDE 


ATA/100/66/33 


USB Ports 


6, plus 2 optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


1, plus 2 optional 
(FireWire 400) 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel Azalia, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


CMOS Reloaded, 
Genie BIOS, UV 
Sensitive 


Manufacturer 


DFI 


Phone 


(510)274-8000 


URL 


www.dfi.com.tw 


Price 


$204 



DFI LANPARTY UT nF3 250Gb 



On the AMD side, DFI's LANPARTY 
enthusiast board features the NVIDIA 
nForce3 250Gb single-chip chipset. The socket 
754 UT nF3 250Gb handles Athlon 64 proces- 
sors, but at press time, no Sempron support had 
been announced. The UT nF3 250Gb has three 
184-pin DIMM sockets that can support up to 
2GB of DDR400 memory or 3GB of DDR333 

memory. The board also features an 8X 

graphics bus for AGP video cards and 
five PCI slots for expansion cards. 

The UT nF3 250Gb's SATA con- 
troller handles 1.5Gbps interface speeds 
and is capable of RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 
JBOD configurations between SATA or 
PATA devices. The Marvell 88E1111 
LAN controller delivers Gigabit net- 
working to the RJ45 port on the rear 
I/O panel. The panel also includes four 
Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports, one Fire- 
Wire 400 port, and S/PDIF digital 
audio in and outputs. Headers accom- 
modate another four USB 2.0 ports and 



two FireWire 400 ports. Six audio jacks let users 
connect the board to 8-channel surround-sound 
systems. 

This board also has UV sensitive parts that 
look particularly sharp under black light. The 
nForce3 board also includes NVIDIA Firewall 
software. Also included with the retail version 
are airflow-friendly rounded IDE cables. ▲ 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



UV SENSITIVE PARTS 



.-sniB' , j«mdQtai 




NVIDIA NFQRCE3 250GB 
SATA RAID 



DFI LANPARTY UT nF3 250Gb 


Socket Type 


Socket 754 AMD 


Chipset 


NVIDIA nForce3 
250Gb 


Processor 
Support 


AMD Athlon 64 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR400/3GB 
DDR333 


RAM Slots 


3 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 
0/1/0+1/JBOD) 


IDE 


UltraDMA/133 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


1, plus 2 optional 
(FireWire 400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel ALC850, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


NVIDIA firewall, Genie 
BIOS, UV Sensitive 


Manufacturer 


DFI 


Phone 


(510)274-8000 


URL 


www.dfi.com.tw 


Price 


$115 



CPU / PC Modder 201 



ECS KV2 Extreme VI .0 



Elitegroup's AMD enthusiast motherboard 
is the VIA K8T800 Pro-equipped KV2 
Extreme. The socket 939 platform supports 
Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX processors. The 
board supports up to 2000MHz bus speeds and 
features four 184-pin DIMM sockets for up to 
4GB of dual-channel DDR400, 333, or 266 
memory. VIA's VT8237 southbridge and the 
SiS 180 chip manage a total of four SATA ports 
for RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 configurations. The 

board also features an 8X AGP slot for 

graphics cards and five PCI slots for 
expansions cards. 

The AC'97 compliant Realtek 
ALC655 chip delivers 6-channel sur- 
round sound, as well as S/PDIF optical 
and coaxial outputs for digital audio. 
Marvell's 88E8001 controller and 
VIA's VT6103L provide dual LAN 
capabilities for simultaneous Gigabit 
and fast Ethernet networking. The rear 
I/O panel features four Hi-Speed USB 



(2.0) ports, with another four ports available via 
internal headers. ECS provides headers for two 
Fire Wire 400 ports, but there are no Fire Wire 
ports on the rear I/O panel. 

The KV2 Extreme also features AGP A. I., 
which is designed to improve the AGP 8X and 4X 
video card performance. The K8T800 northbridge 
also features an active heatsink fan to dissipate heat. 
ECS also included the Dr. LED feature, which 
helps users diagnose PCI device problems. ▲ 



DUAL LAN 



PCI EXTREME 




ACTIVE CHIPSET COOLING 



SATA RAID 



ECS (Elitegroup KV2 Extreme 



Socket Type 


Socket 939 AMD 


Chipset 


VIA K8T800 Pro, 
VT8237 


Processor 
Support 


Athlon 64, Athlon 64 
FX 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 
PCI Slots 


AGP8X 
5 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0/1/0+1) 


IDE 


UltraDMA 

/1 33/1 00/66/33 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 more optional 
(2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


2 optional (FireWire 
400) 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


6-channel AC'97, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


Acceleration Extreme, 
Dr. LED 


Manufacturer 


ECS (Elitegroup) 


Phone 


(510)226-7333 


URL 


www.ecsusa.com 


Price 


N/A 



ECS PF21 Extreme 



Elitegroup's Intel-based motherboard is built 
around the Intel 925XE chipset and paired 
with the ICH6R southbridge. Pentium 4 CPUs 
with Hyper-Threading and a maximum FSB of 
1066MHz fit into the PF21's 775 LGA socket. 
This board also supports DDR2-533 memory 
and dual-channel throughput with matched 
modules. Up to 4GB of DDR2 memory can fill 
the four 240-pin sockets. A single xl6 PCI 
Express slot replaces the AGP slot in this board. 

ECS includes two more PCI-E slots 

that communicate at xl and three regu- 
lar PCI slots for older expansion cards. 

The PF21 Extreme's rear I/O panel 
features four Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports 
and a single FireWire 400 port for exter- 
nal peripherals. Internal headers provide 
for up to four more Hi-Speed USB ports 
and another FireWire 400 port. A 
Marvell 88E8001 LAN controller and 
the Realtek 8100C chip work in tandem 
to supply the PF21 with simultaneous 
10/100 and Gigabit Ethernet. C-Media 



delivers the board's 8-channel surround-sound 
capabilities and supports the rear I/O panel's 
S/PDIF input. ECS also provides six SATA ports. 
Intel's ICH6R manages four SATA ports, while 
the SIS 180 chip handles the other two for RAID 
0, 1, and 0+1 configurations. 

Enthusiasts will appreciate the Cooling 
Accelerator, which is an actively cooled heatsink 
and hood placed near the voltage regulators for 
better temperature control. A 



CDOLING ACCELERATOR 



PCI EXTREME 




ACTIVE CHIPSET COOLING 



SATA RAID 



ECS (Elitegroup) PF21 Extreme 


Socket Type 


Socket 775 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 925XE, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Pentium 4 with 
Hyper-Threading 


RAM Supports 


4GB DDR2-533 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-E x1 6 slot 


PCI Slots 


3, plus 2 PCI-E x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


6 (RAID 0/1/0+1) 


IDE 


Ultra DMA1 33/1 00/66 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


Dual LAN 10/100/1000 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel, S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


Cooling Accelerator, 
Dual LAN, Active 
Chipset Cooling 


Manufacturer 


ECS (Elitegroup) 


Phone 


(510)226-7333 


URL 


www.ecsusa.com 


Price 


N/A 



202 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



EPoX EP-9NDA3+ 



mojuE 



The Socket 939 AMD board of choice from 
EPoX is the EP9NDA3+, which accepts 
Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX processors. The 
NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra handles the communi- 
cations across this board and features a single- 
chip design rather than a separate northbridge 
and southbridge layout. The EP9NDA3+ sup- 
ports dual-channel memory with matched mod- 
ules and speeds up to DDR400. Up to 4GB of 
DDR SDRAM can fill the board's four 184-pin 
slots. The 2GHz HyperTransport bus is capable 

of pumping out 8GBps of system 

bandwidth, which translates to better 
multitasking. 

The nForce3 Ultra features built-in 
Gigabit Ethernet support, which 
offloads the CPU up to 20% over 
PCI-based GbE controllers. A Realtek 
ALC850 codec delivers 8-channel sur- 
round sound and S/PDIF digital audio 
support. The rear I/O panel provides 
four Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports, while 
four more ports are available from 



internal headers. Two FireWire 400 ports are 
optional with the VIA VT6307-controlled head- 
ers. Four SATA ports accommodate devices with 
up to 150Mbps of throughput. You can also 
implement RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 configurations 
between the four devices. 

The nForce3 Ultra chipset also includes 
NVIDIA's hardware-accelerated firewall tech- 
nology for secure and lag-free networking. EPoX 
also threw in the onboard LED Debug Display 
for advanced troubleshooting. A 




GIGABIT ETHERNET 



SATA RAID 



ACTIVE CHIPSET COOLING 



LED DEBUG DISPLAY 



^FsSffl :,.*:„ . 



EPoX EP-9NDA3+ 


Socket Type 


Socket 939 AMD 


Chipset 


NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra 


Processor 
Support 


AMD Athlon-64, 
Athlon-64 FX 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 
SATA Ports 


5 

4 (RAID 0/1/0+1) 


IDE 


UltraDMA/133 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


2 optional (FireWire 
400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel AC97, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 

Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


LED Debug Display, 
NVIDIA firewall, Native 
GbE 


Manufacturer 


EPoX 


Phone 


(714)680-0898 


URL 


www.epox.com 



Price 



$129 



EPoX EP-5EPA+ 



On the Intel side of EPoX's enthusi- 
ast line of motherboards is the EP- 
5EPA+, which features an LGA 775- pin socket. 
The board features Intel's 915P northbridge and 
ICH6R southbridge. The EP-5EPA+ supports 
any socket 775 Pentium 4 or Celeron processor. 
EPoX decided to equip the board with 184-pin 
DDR slots, rather than 240-pin DDR2 slots, 
which Intel's 915 chipset can also accommodate. 
The EP-5EPA+ is capable of up to 4GB of dual- 
channel DDR400 memory in the four slots. The 

PCI-E xl6 slot provides room for a 

next-generation graphics card, while 
two more PCI-E xl slots and four 
plain PCI slots make plenty of room 
for expansion cards. 

The board also includes four SATA 
slots, which when combined with 
Intel's Matrix RAID Technology, 
delivers RAID and 1 arrays for 
increased performance or data redun- 
dancy. The EP-5EPA+ includes the SATA RAID 
Marvell 88E8001 Gigabit Ethernet 



controller for 1000Mbps of networking band- 
width. The Realtek ALC850 codec supports the 
motherboard's S/PDIF digital audio input and 
8-channel surround sound. There are four Hi- 
Speed USB (2.0) ports on the rear I/O panel 
and four more USB 2.0 ports are available from 
internal headers. Some enthusiasts won't be sat- 
isfied with the utter lack of FireWire support. 

As with the AMD version, the EP-5EPA+ 
includes the LED Debug Display for diagnosing 
problems with the board. A 



EPoX EP-5EPA+ 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



PCI EXPRESS X1BSLDT 



LED DEBUG DISPLAY 




Socket Type 


Socket 775 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 91 5P, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Pentium 4 with 

Hyper-Threading, 

Celeron 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR400/333a 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 
PCI Slots 


1 PCI Express x1 6 slot 
4, plus 2 PCI-E x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0/1) 


IDE 


ATA/133/100/66/33 


USB Ports 


4, plus 4 optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


1, plus 2 optional 
(FireWire 400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel ALC850, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


LED Debug Display, 
Intel GMA 900, Matrix 
RAID 


Manufacturer 


EPoX 


Phone 
URL 


(714)680-0898 
www.epox.com 


Price 


$119 



CPU / PC Modder 203 



FIC KTMNF3-Ultra 



FIC's AMD contender is the pint-sized 
KTMNF3, featuring the NVIDIA nForce3 
Ultra single-chip chipset. This micro ATX 
motherboard supports 939-pin Athlon 64 
processors and features a 1GHz HyperTransport 
bus. Two 184-pin DDR SDRAM slots can han- 
dle up to 2GB of DDR400, 333, or 266 memo- 
ry. You can also use matched memory modules 
with the KTMNF3's dual-channel RAM slots to 
get an extra performance boost. The AGP slot is 

version 3.0 compliant and accepts 4X 

and 8X cards. The 32-bit PCI slots are 
version 2.3 compliant and manage up 
to three expansion cards. 

Dual LAN controllers from Realtek 
supply the KTMNF3 with 10/100 
Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet capabil- 
ities. Realtek also manufactures the 
onboard audio chip, which delivers 6- 
channel surround sound. The nForce3 
chipset controls the two SATA ports 
and provides RAID 0, 1, and + 1 



functionality. Six Hi-Speed USB (2.0) ports are 
accessible from the rear I/O panel, while internal 
headers provide an additional two ports. The 
KTMNF3 also includes Fire Wire support in the 
form of a single 400Mbps port on the rear I/O 
panel and two internal headers for two more 
Fire Wire 400 ports. 

If legacy ports are important to you, then the 
two Serial and single Parallel ports on the rear 
I/O panel will suit your needs. A 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



SOCKET 939 




SATA RAID 



NVIDIA HF0RCE4 ULTRA 



FIC KTMNF3-Ultra 


Socket Type 


Socket 939 AMD 


Chipset 


NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra 


Processor 
Support 


Athlon 64, Athlon 64 
FX 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


2 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


3 


SATA Ports 
IDE 


2 (RAID 0/1/0+1) 
Ultra DMA/133/100/66 


USB Ports 


6, plus 2 optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


1 , plus 2 optional 
(FireWire 400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel, AC97, 
S/PDIF 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features 


NVIDIA firewall, Micro 
ATX, dual-channel 
DDR 


Manufacturer 


FIC 


Phone 


(510)252-7777 


URL 


www.fica.com 



Price 



N/A 



FIC P4M-915GD2 



The P4M-915GD2 is an Intel-based board 
for form-factor conscious enthusiasts. The 
board features Intel's 915G Express northbridge 
and the ICH6R southbridge and is designed for 
Pentium 4 processors with Hyper-Threading. 
FIC equips the P4M-915GD2 with four 240-pin 
DDR2 memory slots, which can accommodate 
up to 4GB of DDR2-533 or DDR2-400 memo- 
ry. Matched modules can also take advantage of 
the board's dual-channel support. The board 
includes the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 

900 for integrated graphics. FIC also 

included an xl6 PCI-E slot for an 
optional standalone graphics card. Due 
to the reduced form factor, FIC only 
included one PCI-E xl slot and two 
PCI slots for expansion cards. 

The ICH6R southbridge manages 
the communications between the 
four SATA ports and delivers RAID 
and 1 capabilities. Four Hi-Speed 
USB (2.0) ports grace the board's 
rear I/O panel, while internal headers 
account for four optional ports. Two 



FireWire ports are also available from onboard 
headers. One RJ45 port delivers native 
10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet for high-speed 
networking and lag-free gaming. A Realtek 
ALC880 chip provides 8-channel surround- 
sound audio and an AC'97-compliant codec. 

The P4M-915GD2 also features Intel's High 
Definition Audio, which supplants the decade-old 
AC'97 audio standard. HD Audio, along with 
Microsoft's Universal Audio Architecture, delivers 
high-quality, multichannel integrated audio. A 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 



PCI EXPRESS X16 SLOT 



INTEL 915G EXPRESS 



SATA RAID 




I FICP4M-915GD2 I 


Socket Type 


Socket LGA 775 Intel 


Chipset 


Intel 91 5G, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


P4 with 
Hyper-Threading 


RAM Support 


4GB DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI-E x1 6 slot 


PCI Slots 


2, plus 1 PCI-E x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 
0/1/0+1/JBOD) 


IDE 


UltraDMA/1 00/66 


USB Ports 


4, plus 6 optional (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


2 optional (FireWire 
400) 


LAN 


10/100/1000 Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel, ALC880 


Integrated 
Graphics 


Intel GMA 900 


Other Features 
Definition Audic 


Micro ATX, Intel High 


Manufacturer 


FIC 


Phone 


(510)252-7777 


URL 


www.fica.com 



Price 



N/A 



204 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



GIGABYTE GA-8AENXP-D 



GIGABYTE is a perennial forerunner for 
cutting edge mobos, and the GA- 
8AENXP-D certainly follows suit. This 
motherboard uses Intel's 925XE chipset and 
supports LGA775 Intel Pentium 4 CPUs 
with 1066MHz FSB and HyperThreading 
technology. Six DIMM slots accept a maxi- 
mum of 4GB of dual-channel DDR2- 
533/400 memory. 

GIGABYTE crams its mobo boxes 
full of goodies, and that's true of its flag- 
ship 8 Sigma series board. It features the 
company's patented U-Plus (Universal 
Plus) DPS (Dual Power System). 

The GA-8AENXP-D uses a PCI 
Express xl6 slot for graphics and 
three PCI Express xl slots plus two 
PCI slots for expansion cards. GIGA- 
BYTE further jazzed up this mobo 



with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports for high- 
speed networking flexibility. 

Next-generation Fire Wire, IEEE 1394b, is 
standard on the GA-8AENXP-D; two connec- 
tors support up to three ports. The GA- 
8AENXP-D can also handle up to seven USB 
2.0 ports. A 



U PLUS DPS SLOT 



INTEL 925XE NDRTHBRIDGE 



SIX DIMM SLOTS 
(4GB DDR2-533/400) 




GIGABYTE GA-8AENXP-D 


Socket Type 


Socket T(LGA775) 


Chipset 


Intel 925XE, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Socket T Pen- 
tium 4 Processors 
1066800533MHz FSB 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


6 


Graphics Bus 


PCI Express x1 6 


PCI Slots 


2 


PCI-E Slots 


3 


SATA Ports 
IDE 


8 (RAID 0,1) 

1 Ultra DMA 100/66 


USB Ports 


7 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


3 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 


Integrated Audio Intel HD Audio 


Integrated Graphics: N/A 


Other Features U-Plus DPS 


Manufacturer 


GIGABYTE 


Phone 


(626) 854-9338 


URL 


www.gigabyte.com 


Price 


N/A 



GIGABYTE GA-K8NXP-SLI 



With the GA-K8NXP-SLI, GIGABYTE 
has officially thrown its hat into the SLI 
ring. Because GIGABYTE is typically on the 
forefront of cutting edge technology, it's no sur- 
prise that one of the first motherboards capable 
of handling NVIDIA's SLI bears the GIGA- 
BYTE label. Its Socket 939 supports Athlon 
64/64 FX processors, and four DIMM slots 
support up to 4GB of dual-channel DDR400/ 
333/266 SDRAM. 

GIGABYTE'S U-Plus DPS also makes an 

appearance on the GA-K8NXP-SLI 

motherboard. According to GIGA- 
BYTE, one of the main purposes of 
including the DPS is to bolster system 
stability. NVIDIA's nForce4 SLI chipset 
features a number of upgrades over its 
last chipset, the nForce3 Ultra, such as 
SATA II support and NVIDIA's Active 
Armor firewall. 

With two PCI xl6 slots and xl 
slots, this board receives an obvious 
makeover from previous models 
based on NVIDIA's chipsets, but there are 
also two old-school PCI slots so you don't 



have to feel bad about dropping $200 on that 
high-end sound card. Two IEEE 1394b con- 
nectors support up to three next-gen FireWire 
ports. The GA-K8NXP-SLI also has two 
RJ45 jacks that offer Gigabit Ethernet and 
integrated 802.1 lg. 

The GA-K8NXP-SLI's 8-channel audio via 
the ALC850 audio CODEC and DualBIOS 
are two additional features that should please 
power users who crave bells and whistles. A 



U-PLUS DPS SLOT 



SOCKET 939 FOR 
ATHLON 64/64 FX 
PROCESSORS 



NIVDIANF0RCE4 
SLI CHIPSET 




GIGABYTE GA-K8NXP-SLI 


Socket Type 


939 


Chipset 


NVIDIA nForce4 SLI 


Processor 
Support 


AMD Athlon 64/64 
FX processors 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


Dual PCI Express 
x16(x8inSLImode) 


PCI Slots 


2 


PCI-E Slots 


2 


SATA Ports 
IDE 


8 (4 SATA II, 4 SATA: 
RAID 0,1,0+1) 


2UDMAATA133 
for four devices 


USB Ports 


10(2.0/1.1) 


FireWire Ports 


3 


LAN 


Marvell 8053 Gigabit 
Ethernet, CICA- 
DA8201 Gigabit LAN 
PHY chip 


Integrated Audio 8-channel ALC850 
audio CODEC 


Integrated Graphics: No 


Other Features U-Plus UPS Gold, 
DualBIOS 


Manufacturer 


GIGABYTE 


Phone 


(626) 854-9338 


URL 


www.gigabyte.com 


Price 


N/A 



CPU / PC Modder 205 



Intel D925XECV2 



This mobo currently leads the pack for 
Intel's home enthusiast motherboards. 
With Intel's top-of-the-line 925XE chipset, the 
D925XECV2 is naturally equipped to handle 
the company's best processors, namely Socket 
T Pentium 4 Extreme Edition CPUs with 
either a 1066MHz or 800MHz FSB. The 
mobo also works with garden-variety Socket T 
P4s with 800MHz or 533MHz FSB. 

Because of its ATX form factor, the 
D925XECV2 will easily take up more real 
estate than the smaller D925XEBC2, but the 
D925XECV2 rewards you with additional PCI 

slots (four total) and an extra PCI 

Express xl slot. Like the D925XEBC2, 
the D925XECV2 uses a PCI-E xl6 
graphics bus and supports up to 4GBs 
of 533MHz or 400MHz DDR2 mem- 
ory. Now commonplace on Intel-based 
mobos, the D925XECV2 also supports 
dual-channel memory technology. 

The D925XECV2 also takes advan- 
tage of some of Intel's new proprietary 



technologies such as Intel HD Audio and Intel 
Matrix Raid Storage Technology, so the 
D925XEBC2 is capable of producing 7.1 audio 
and RAID and 1 arrays. 

This board's networking and peripheral 
options are also all top-notch, thanks to eight 
available USB 2.0 headers and Gigabit Ethernet 
(Marvell Yukon 88E8050 PCI Express Gigabit 
Ethernet Controller). 

Like most Intel boards, the D925XECV2 
comes with no frills in terms of extra software. 
If you're looking for a free game or utility, 
look elsewhere. A 



PCI-E XI SLOTS 



INTEL 925XE/ICH6R CHIPSET 



LGA775 SOCKET SUPPORTING 
INTEL PENTIUM 4 PROCESSORS 
{1066/800/533 MHZ FSB) 




Intel D925XECV2 | 


Socket Type 


Socket T (LGA775) 


Chipset 


Intel 925XE, ICH6R 


Processor 
Support 


P4EE 1066/800, 
P4 800/533 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 
Graphics Bus 


4 

1 PCI-E x16 


PCI Slots 


4 


PCI-E Slots 


2 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0,1, Matrix) 


IDE 


1 Ultra DMA 
100/66/33 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


Marvell Gigabit 


Integrated Audio Intel HD Audio 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features N/A 


Manufacturer 


Intel 


Phone 


(800) 538-3373 


URL 


www.intel.com 


Price 


N/A 



Intel D925XEBC2 



With the exception of a Micro ATX form 
factor, the D925XEBC2 sports nearly 
the same features as its big brother, the Intel 
D925XEBC2. Don't let the D925XEBC2's 
diminutive size fool you; this mobo packs a few 
punches. With a Socket T CPU interface, the 
D925XEBC2 can handle the muscle of Intel's 
Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor with 
either a 1066MHz or 800MHz FSB. If you 
can't quite dish out the cash for either of these 
thoroughbreds, the mobo is quite comfortable 
with a more demure Pentium 4 with an 
800MHz or 533MHz FSB. 

Because of its smaller form factor, 
the D925XEBC2 doesn't have quite as 
many expansion slots. For example, 
you're limited to two PCI slots and 
only one PCI Express xl slot. 

Like other 925XE-based boards, the 
D925EXEBC2 supports dual-channel 
DDR2 RAM at both 533MHz and 
400MHz. It also uses a PCI-E xl6 
graphics bus. 



Audiophiles should enjoy the new Intel HD 
Audio subsystem (formerly code named Azalia), 
which delivers 8-channel sound to any speaker 
array capable of handling such a massive 
amount of discrete channels. 

The D925XEBC2 also has four SATA head- 
ers and boasts Intel's Matrix Raid Storage 
Technology through the ICH6R southbridge 
so users can set up a RAID or 1 array with 
the D925XEBC2. ▲ 



INTEL ICH6R SOUTHBRIDGE 



DIMM SLOTS 

(4GB DDR2-533/400) 



MICRO ATX FORM FACTOR 




Intel D925XEBC2 1 


Socket Type 


Socket T (LGA775) 


Chipset 


Intel 925XE, ICH6R 
P4EE 1066/800, 
P4 800/533 


Processor 
Support 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


1 PCI Express x1 6 


PCI Slots 


2 


PCI-E Slots 


1 x1 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0,1, Matrix) 


IDE 


Ultra DMA, ATA 
100/66/33 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


Marvell Gigabit 


Integrated Audio Intel HD Audio 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features N/A 


Manufacturer 


Intel 


Phone 


(800) 538-3373 


URL 


www.intel.com 


Price 


N/A 



206 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



anxiE 



Jetway 917GBAG 

Jetway's 917GBAG is a smart motherboard 
choice if high-powered graphics aren't 
important to you. Despite the somewhat con- 
fusing moniker, the 917GBAG uses Intel's 
915G chipset, which supports integrated 
graphics. A Socket T (LGA775) mobo, the 
917GBAG is compatible with Intel Pentium 4 
processors up to an 800MHz FSB. 

The 917GBAG has flexible memory options, as 
it accepts both DDR and DDR2 SDRAM. Two 
DIMM slots handle up to 2GB dual-channel 
DDR400 memory, and the other two slots use up 

to 2GB dual-channel DDR2-533/400 

memory. Splitting duty between DDR 
and DDR2 memory should help ease the 
upgrade path for users who'd like to tran- 
sition to an LGA775 CPU or PCI 
Express graphics card without trashing 
potentially expensive items such as low- 
latency DDR memory. 

Hard-core gamers usually shun inte- 
grated graphics (unless your idea of 



hardcore gaming is a four-hour Starcraft LAN 
party), but Intel's GMA 900 integrated graph- 
ics should provide more than enough power for 
just about every non-3D task you can throw at 
it. If integrated graphics isn't your style, the 
917GBAG has a PCI-E xl6 graphics slot. 

The 917GBAG motherboard has two PCI-E 
xl slots and three PCI slots for expansion cards, 
and it can handle up to eight USB 2.0 ports. 
The board also includes Intel's HD Audio and 
Gigabit Ethernet. A 



INTEL HD AUDIO 



THREE PCI SLOTS 



PCI-EX16 SLOT 




Jetway 91 7G BAG 


Socket Type 


Socket T (LGA775) 


Chipset 


Intel 915G 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Pentium 4 
processors 
(800MHz FSB) 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR, 2GB 
DDR2 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


PCI Express x1 6 


PCI Slots 


3 


PCI-E Slots 


2 x1 slots 


SATA Ports 


6 (RAID 0, 1,0+1, 
JBOD) 


IDE 


Support four IDE 


devices 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


Gigabit Ethernet 


Integrated Audio Intel HD Audio 


Integrated 
Graphics 


Intel GMA 900 in- 
tegrated graphics 


Other Features N/A 


Manufacturer 


Jetway 


Phone 


(510)683-6588 


URL 


www.jetway.com.tw 


Price 


N/A 



Jetway 865PBAP 



Most Socket T (LGA775) mobos work in 
conjunction with either Intel's 915 or 
925 chipsets or similar chipsets from other 
leading manufacturers such as VIA, but the 
new LGA775 sockets have trickled down to a 
handful of motherboards with older chipsets. 
Jetway's 865PBAP, which uses Intel's 865PE 
chipset, is an excellent example. 

The 865PBAP motherboard supports 
LGA775 Intel Pentium 4 CPUs with either 
an 800MHz or 533MHz FSB and Hyper- 
Threading Technology but also uses 
older DDR and AGP technologies 
for memory and graphics, respective- 
ly. With only two DIMM slots, the 
865PBAP accepts up to 2GB PC- 
3200, PC2700, or PC2100 RAM. 
The AGP slot can use either an AGP 
4X or 8X graphics card. 

Other relatively common features 
such as RAID capability, FireWire, and 
Gigabit Ethernet are absent from the 
865PBAP, but you can still network 



with the 10/100 Base T integrated Fast Ether- 
net and attach up to eight high-speed USB 
devices. The 865PBAP also has five PCI slots. 
You can still use SATA hard drives, but kiss any 
hopes of a striped or mirrored array goodbye. 
The 865PBAP also uses an integrated 6-channel 
AC'97 audio CODEC. ▲ 



LGA 775 SOCKET 



INTEL 865 PE CHIPSET 



AGP 8X SLOT 




Jetway 865PBAP 


Socket Type 


Socket T 
(LGA775) 


Chipset 


Intel 865PE/ICH5 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Pentium 4 
processors (800 
MHz/533MHz FSB) 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR400 


RAM Slots 


2 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


PCI-E Slots 





SATA Ports 


2 


IDE 


Supports four 
IDE devices 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


10/100 Ethernet 


Integrated Audio 6-channel Audio 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features N/A 


Manufacturer 


Jetway 


Phone 


(510)683-6588 


URL 


www.jetway.com.tw 


Price 


N/A 



CPU / PC Modder 207 



MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum 



Once MSI's NVIDIA nForce4 chipset-based 
mobos become widespread, expect the 
K8N Neo2 Platinum to fade in popularity. Until 
then, this particular model is MSI's best-selling 
AMD mobo, according to MSI. The K8N Neo2 
Platinum uses NVIDIA's older nForce3 Ultra 
chipset but still packs a punch with its Hyper- 
Transport supporting FSB speeds of up to 
1GHz. The mobo uses a Socket 939 interface 
and accepts AMD Athlon 64 and 64 FX CPUs. 

While Socket 754 mobos supported Athlon 
64 processors, virtually none offered 
dual-channel memory capability, a defi- 
ciency the nForce3 Ultra chipset cor- 
rects. The K8N Neo2 Platinum accepts 
up to 4GB dual-channel DDR in 
PC3200, PC2700, and PC2100 flavors. 
Even though PC3200 RAM is a little 
slow by today's standards, but a couple 
of 1GB sticks of low-latency memory 
should be right at home in the K8N's 
four DIMM slots. 



PCI-E fans will have to hold out for nForce4 
because the K8N Neo2 Platinum uses the soon- 
to-be AGP graphics bus. The board's dual 
Gigabit Ethernet controllers are a nice bonus, 
and the K8N Neo2 Platinum is loaded with 
FireWire (three) and USB 2.0 (eight) headers. 

Considering the extra features MSI includes 
in this mobo and that you can still get your 
hands on high-quality AGP graphics cards and 
DDR memory, the K8N Neo2 Platinum could 
be a smart buy for quite a while. A 




SOCKET 939 



ACTIVE CHIPSET COOLING 



MSI CORE CELL- 



MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum 


Socket Type 
Chipset 


939 

NVIDIA nForce 3 

Ultra Chipset 


Processor 
Support 


AMD Athlon 64/64 
FX processors 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR 400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


PCI-E Slots 





SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0, 1,0+1) 


IDE 


Ultra DMA 
133/100/66 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


3 


LAN 


1 Realtek Gigabit/ 
1 Marvell Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


7.1-channel 
Realtek ALC850 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features Live Update, MSI 
CoreCell, PC Alert 


Manufacturer 


MSI 


Phone 


(626)913-0828 


URL 


www.msicomputer.corn 


Price 


$149.99 



MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum 



MSI 915PNeo2 Platinum 



So the MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum can't 
support the 1066MHz FSB version of 
Intel's Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, but you 
weren't really going to spend more than 
$1,000 on such a processor, were you? (Don't 
answer that.) The 915P Neo2 Platinum moth- 
erboard supports Intel Socket T (LGA775) 
Pentium 4 3XX, 5XX, and 7XX processors 
with Hyper-Threading Technology with an 
FSB as high as 800MHz. 

Using Intel's 915P (Grantsdale) chipset, the 
915P Neo2 Platinum accepts up to 4GB dual- 
channel DDR2-533+/533/400 memory and a 

PCI Express xl6 graphics bus, so 

throw your DDR SDRAM and AGP 
graphics card (and 478-pin P4s, for 
that matter) in the dumpster if you feel 
you need a chipset makeover. 

In terms of peripherals, you'll have 
a number of options at your finger- 
tips with the 915P Neo2 Platinum 
motherboard. The mobo includes 
four rear USB 2.0 ports and pin 
headers for an additional four front 



USB 2.0 ports. Gigabit Ethernet and IEEE 
1394 also join the party. 

There are two PCI-E xl slots and three PCI 
slots to handle your expansion cards, and two 
RAID controllers (one through the ICH6R 
southbridge and one through the VIA 6410 
IDE RAID Controller) to give you plenty of 
storage options. ▲ 



8-GKANNEL 
INTEGRATED AUDIO 



TWO PCI-E X1 SLOTS 



SATA RAID 0,1 




Socket Type 

Chipset 

Processor 

Support 

RAM Support 

RAM Slots 
Graphics Bus 
PCI Slots 
PCI-E Slots 
SATA Ports 
IDE 



Socket T 
(LGA775) 
Intel 91 5P, ICH6R 
P4 3XX, 5XX, 7XX 
processor or 
higher, 800MHz 
4GB dual-channel 
DDR2-533+/533/400 
4 

1 PCI Express x1 6 
3 

2x1 

4 (RAID 0,1, Matrix) 

2 Ultra DMA 133 
supporting 4 de- 
vices (RAID 0, 1, 
0+1); 2 ATA 100 
supporting 2 devices 



USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


1 


LAN 


Broadcom Gigabit 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel Realtek 
ALC861 


Integrated Graphics: N/A 


Other Features Live Update, MSI 
CoreCell, MSI 
Core Center 


Manufacturer 


MSI 


Phone 


(626)913-0828 


URL 


www.msicomputer.com 



Price 



$179.99 



208 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



PCChips Tidalwave T18 



The Tidalwave T18 motherboard from 
PCChips is a relatively inexpensive 
Socket LGA775-based mobo that has a few 
unique features. The T18 uses Intel's 915P/ 
ICH6 chipset. It supports Intel Pentium 4 
and Celeron D processors with either an 
800MHz or 533MHz FSB. The motherboard 
also has robust RAM support, providing a 
home for up to 2GB of your old 2.5V 
DDR400/333 SDRAM while offering two 
additional DIMM slots for 2GB of newer 
1.8V DDR2 533/400 SDRAM. 

Interestingly enough, PCChips also 

had legacy support on the brain 
regarding the graphics bus. An AGP 
8X and PCI Express xl6 slot are 
unexpected roommates on this mobo. AGP BX slot 
This isn't just a PCI-E xl6 slot graft- 
ed onto an AGP 8X graphics bus; 
these are bona fide independent slots 
on the motherboard. Granted, you 
won't be able to combine the perfor- 
mance of an older AGP card with a 



newer PCI-E card, but it's nice to know that 
PCChips didn't abandon consumers interest- 
ed in upgrading their CPU while hanging 
onto an older yet powerful AGP graphics card. 
There's also a comfortable blend of PCI 
(three) and PCI-E xl (two) expansion slots. 
While there's no support for Fire Wire, the 
T18 will support up to eight USB 2.0 devices. 
It should also come as no surprise that as a 
915-based mobo, the T18 has integrated 8- 
channel sound. A 



PCI-E X16 SLOT 



GIGABIT ETHERNET 




Tidalwave T1 8 


Socket Type 


Socket T (LGA775) 


Chipset 


915P/ICH6 


Processor 
Support 


800/533 MHz FSB 


RAM Support 


DDR400/333 or 
DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


2xDDR;2xDDR2 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


3 


PCI-E Slots 


1 x PCI Express x 
16 slots, 2 x PCI 
Express x 1 slot 


SATA Ports 


4 


IDE 


1 x Ultra DMA 
100/66 &2x Ultra 
DMA 133/100 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


811 OS, GigaLAN 


Integrated Audio Realtek ALC880 
8-channel audio 
Codec 


Integrated Graphics: N/A 


Other Features Smart Technology 


Manufacturer 


PCCHIPS USA, 
Inc. 


Phone 


(510)226-3868 


URL 


www.pcchipsusa.com 


Price 


$99 



PCChips Tidalwave W32 



Not all of us can splurge on a brand-spank- 
ing-new AMD Athlon 64 FX 55, but 
older Socket 754 Athlon 64 processors still pull 
their weight with some of the most demand- 
ing applications on the market. PCChips' 
Tidalwave W32 is a Socket 754 mobo capable 
of handling 754-pin Athlon 64 and Sempron 
processors. The motherboard features SiS's 
755/964 chipset and supports CPUs with an 
FSB as high as 800MHz. 

The W32 has two DIMM slots 

for up to 2GB DDR400/333/266 

SDRAM and uses an AGP 8X graph- 
ics bus (we didn't expect a PCI-E xl6 
slot to rear its head on this board, 
too). For expansion purposes, there 
are five PCI slots on the W32, and 
this mobo will support up to eight 
USB 2.0 ports. 

Although there are two SATA con- 
nectors for SATA hard drives, the 
W32 apparently lacks support for 
RAID of any kind, a feature that is 



usually standard if not expected on today's 
mobos. The W32 supports up to four IDE 
devices (Ultra DMA 133/100) and has inte- 
grated Gigabit Ethernet. 

An integrated C-Media CMI9761A 6- 
channel audio CODEC controls the W32's 
onboard sound and is compliant with the 
AC'97 2.3 specification. ▲ 



SIS 755/964 CHIPSET 



SOCKET 754 
SUPPORTING AMD 
ATHL0N64/SEMPRON 
PROCESSORS (8DD MHZ FSB) 

INTEGRATED 6 CHANNEL AUDIO 




Tidalwave W32 1 


Socket Type 


Socket 754 for 
AMD Athlon 64 / 
Sempron processor 


Chipset 


SiS 755/964 


Processor 
Support 


800 MHz FSB 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR400/ 
333/266 


RAM Slots 


2 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


PCI-E Slots 


N/A 


SATA Ports 


2 


IDE 


Ultra DMA 133/100 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


811 OS, GigaLAN 


Integrated Audio C-Media CMI9761 A 
6-channel audio 
Codec 


Integrated Graphics: N/A 


Other Features 


Smart Technology 


Manufacturer 


PCCHIPS USA, 
Inc. 


Phone 


(510)226-3869 


URL 


www.pcchipsusa.com 


Price 


$89 



CPU / PC Modder 209 



Soltek SL-K890Pro-939 



VIA Technologies fans will like the fact 
that Soltek has adopted VIA's K8T890 
chipset on the SL-K890Pro-939. One of VIA's 
most recent chipsets, the K8T890/VT8237, 
gives AMD users the option to transition from 
AGP to PCI Express. The SL-K890Pro-939 
supports 939-pin AMD Athlon 64/64 FX 
processors with a HyperTransport FSB of up 
to 1GHz. 

There is a PCI-E xl6 graphics bus and 
three PCI-E xl expansion slots, but unlike 
motherboards with the PCI-E bus 

and Intel's chipsets, the SL-K890Pro- 

939 uses DDR SDRAM instead of 
DDR2. The board has four DIMM 
slots for up to 4GB dual-channel 
DDR400/333 SDRAM. 

The SL-K890Pro-939 provides plen- 
ty of options for peripherals. In addi- 
tion to the three PCI-E xl slots, there 
are 2 PCI expansion slots, and the rear 
I/O panel has four USB 2.0 ports and 
one IEEE 1394 port. Connectors on 



the motherboard itself support an extra four 
USB 2.0 ports and one IEEE1394 port. 

Audio and networking capabilities are also 
top-notch on the SL-K890Pro-939. The 
AC'97 integrated audio CODEC produces 8- 
channel sound, and there is one RJ45 jack for 
Gigabit Ethernet. 

Overclockers will be able to adjust the FSB 
in the BIOS, but Soltek also offers its Red- 
Storm2 Overclocking Technology as optional 
tool. ▲ 



THREE PCI E XI SLOTS 



VIA KSfBaD NORTHBRIDGE 



ONBOARD DEBUG LED 




Soltek SL-K890Pro-939 


Socket Type 


Socket 939 


Chipset 


VIA K8T890 
A/T8237 


Processor 
Support 


939-pin AMD 
Athlon 64/64 FX 
processors 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 


DDR400/333 SDRAM 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


PCi Express x1 6 


PCI Slots 


2 


PCI-E Slots 


3 


SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0,1) 



IDE 2 ATA1 33/1 00/66/ 

supporting 4 devices 
(RAiDO, 1,0+1); 1 
ATA 133/100 sup- 
porting 2 devices 

USB Ports 8 (2.0) 

FireWire Ports 2 

LAN Gigabit Ethernet 

Integrated 8-channel AC'97 

Audio audio CODEC 

Integrated Graphics: No 

Other Features RedStorm2 Over- 
clocking Techno- 
logy (optional), STR 
Function, onboard 
Debug LED 

Manufacturer Soltek 

Phone 886 2-2642-9060 

(Taiwan office) 

URL www.soltek.com.tw 

Price N/A 



Soltek SL915Pro-FGR 



Soltek's SL915Pro-FGR is one of the few 
boards based on Intel's 915P chipset that 
doesn't use DDR2 SDRAM. Instead, there are 
four DIMM slots, each capable of 1GB 
DDR400/333 SDRAM. The board also sup- 
ports dual-channel memory. A Socket LGA775 
socket accepts Intel LGA775 Pentium 4 proces- 
sors with either an 800MHz or 533MHz FSB. 

Because the SL915Pro-FGR uses Intel's 
bland ICH6 southbridge, you won't have any 
SATA RAID options even though the board 
itself has four SATA connectors. We 
would have liked to see the ICH6R 
southbridge, but at least the mobo 
offers IDE RAID 0, 1, and + 1 arrays 
through the ITE IT8212F controller. 

Not surprisingly, Soltek has in- 
cluded the PCI Express bus on the 
SL915Pro-FGR. It uses a PCI-E xl6 
slot for compatible graphics cards and 
has three PCI-E xl slots when PCI-E 
expansion cards finally reach the mar- 
ket. Two PCI slots also make an 



appearance to provide support for legacy 
expansion cards. 

Like the SL-K890Pro-939, the SL915Pro- 
FGR has an 8-channel AC'97 audio CODEC 
and support for Gigabit Ethernet. There are 
four integrated USB 2.0 ports and one integrat- 
ed IEEE 1394 port on the mobo's rear I/O 
panel, and you can add four USB 2.0 ports and 
one IEEE 1394 port thanks to pin headers on 
the board itself. A 



FOUR DIMM SLOTS 
SUPPORTING 4GB 
DDR4D0/333 



INTEL 915P/ICH6 CHIPSET 



ONBOARD DEBUG LED 




Soltek SL-915Pro-FGR 


Socket Type 


LGA775 


Chipset 


Intel 915P + ICH6 


Processor 
Support 


Intel LGA 775 
processors 
(800/533MHz FSB) 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR400/333 SDRAM 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


PCI Express x1 6 


PCI Slots 


2 


PCI-E Slots 


3 


SATA Ports 


4 


IDE 


1 ATA1 00/66/33 
supporting 4 devices 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


2 


LAN 


Gigabit Ethernet 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel AC'97 
audio CODEC 


Integrated Graphics: No 


Other Features SmartDoc Anti-burn- 
ing Shield (option- 
al), Soltek H/W 
Monitor, onboard 
Debug LED 


Manufacturer 


Soltek 


Phone 


886 2-2642-9060 
(Taiwan office) 


URL 


www.soltek.com.tw 


Price 


N/A 



210 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



SOYO SY-KT600 DRAGON Plus v.2.0 



Just because the SY-KT600 DRAGON Plus 
v.2.0 is an older board doesn't mean it's 
any less popular, according to SOYO. This 
Socket A board is still one of the company's 
best-selling mobos and offers a stout number of 
features for the budget builder. 

The SY-KT600 DRAGON Plus v.2.0 
motherboard uses an expansive lineup of 
AMD processors. While you won't be able to 
saddle up with an AMD Athlon 64 CPU, the 
mobo accepts Athlon XP processors between 
1800+ and 3200+ and Duron processors 
between 1.3GHz and 1.8GHz. Two 

DIMM slots gives you limited mem- 

ory options, but the SY-KT600 
DRAGON Plus v.2.0 accepts up to 
2GB DDR400. 

This mobo should also satisfy any 
user who needs to connect a plethora 
of peripherals. Five PCI slots and 
eight USB 2.0 ports (four rear ports 
and pin headers for an additional 
four ports) lead the way, providing 



homes for the mishmash of sound cards, scan- 
ners, and Webcams you've accumulated over 
the years. 

An AGP 8X graphics bus and integrated 6- 
channel audio round out the SY-KT600 
DRAGON Plus v.2.0's features, and two 
SATA headers give you basic RAID or 
RAID 1 options. Don't expect a fancy soft- 
ware bundle: it's not there. Expect a reliable 
mobo that should give you solid performance 
at a reasonable price. A 



VIA KTG00 CHIPSET 



DIMM SLOTS 

(2GB DDR 400/333/266) 



SATA PORTS (RAID 0,1) 




SOYO SY-KT600 DRAGON 
Plus v.2.0 


Socket Type 


Socket A 


Chipset 


VIA KT600 


Processor 
Support 


Athlon XP 1800+ 
to 3200+, Duron 
1.3 to 1.8GHz 


RAM Support 


2GB DDR400/ 
333/266 


RAM Slots 


2 


Graphics Bus 


AGP8X 


PCI Slots 


5 


PCI-E Slots 





SATA Ports 


2 (RAID 0,1) 


IDE 


Ultra DMA 133/100 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


10/1 00 Fast Ethernet 


Integrated 
Audio 


Onboard 
6-channel Audio 


Integrated 
Graphics 


No 


Other Features N/A 


Manufacturer 
Phone 


SOYO 

(909) 292-2500 


URL 


www.soyousa.com 


Price 


$79 



SOYO SY-KT880 DRAGON 2 v.2.0 



SOYO's SY-KT880 DRAGON 2 v.2.0 pro- 
vides you with more extras than you can 
shake a stick of RAM at. This mobo supports 
the same CPUs as the SY-KT600 DRAGON 
Plus v.2.0, but that's about where the similari- 
ties between the two boards end. Armed with 
VIA's KT880/8237 chipset, the SY-KT880 
DRAGON 2 v.2.0 has four DIMM slots for up 
to 4GB DDR 400/333/266 RAM. Dual-chan- 
nel is also supported on this mobo, a feature 
noticeably absent on the SY-KT600 DRAG- 
ON v.2.0. 

More memory options are only the 

tip of the iceberg; the SY-KT880 
DRAGON 2 v.2.0 uses and AGP 
PRO slot that supports AGP 8X and 
4X modes. Five PCI slots and one 
CNR (Communication Networking 
Riser) give you fairly standard expan- 
sion options, but the SY-KT880 
DRAGON 2 v.2.0 really sets itself 
apart with its plentiful RAID options 
(four SATA headers provide RAID 0, 



1, and JBOD), two FireWire ports, and 
onboard 8-channel audio delivered via 
Realtek's ALC850 audio CODEC. 

Gigabit Ethernet and support for eight 
USB 2.0 ports (four rear ports and pin headers 
for an additional four) are further evidence the 
SY-KT880 DRAGON 2 v.2.0 is an elite 
Socket A mobo. SOYO has also added its own 
extra features such as SOYO ABR (Anti Burn 
Regulator) and CPU Overheat protection. ▲ 



SOCKET A SUPPORTING 
ATHLON XP 1800+-320D+ 
PROCESSORS 



VIA KT880/8237 CHIPSET 



SATA PORTS (RAID 0,1) 




SOYO SY-KT880 DRAGON 2 v2.0 


Socket Type 


Socket A 


Chipset 


VIA KT880/8237 


Processor 
Support 


AMD Athlon XP 
1800+ to 3200+ 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR 400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


AGP 8X/4X 


PCI Slots 


5 


PCI-E Slots 





SATA Ports 


4 (RAID 0,1, JBOD) 


IDE 


Ultra DMA 133/100/ 
66 (RAID 0, 1, 
0+1, JBOD) 


USB Ports 


8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


2 


LAN 


Gigabit Ethernet 


Integrated 
Audio 


8-channel Realtek 
ALC850 


Integrated 
Graphics 


N/A 


Other Features SOYO ABR (Anti 
Bum Protection, 
CPU Overheat 
Protection 


Manufacturer 


SOYO 


Phone 


(909) 292-2500 


URL 


www.soyousa.com 


Price 


$84.99 



CPU / PCModder 211 



Supermicro X6DA8-G2 



Now this is a serious mobo. Designed as a 
high-end workstation motherboard, the 
X6DA8-G2 inspires pure, unbridled fear in 
lesser, single-socket motherboards. Not only 
does the X6DA8-G2 support dual Intel Xeon 
EM64T processors up to 3.6GHz, it also fea- 
tures Intel's E7525 (Tumwater) chipset and 
eight (that's right, eight) 240-pin DIMM slots 
for up to 16GB dual-channel, registered DDR2 
400 RAM. Its supported memory-module size 
ranges from 256MB to 2GB. This clearly isn't 
your garden-variety motherboard. 

The board's 6-channel audio isn't great, but 

as a workstation motherboard, the 

audio is more of a perk than a require- 
ment. The X6DA8-G2 uses a PCI 
Express xl6 graphics bus and has one 
PCI-E x4 slot, one 133MHz PCI-X 
slot, two 100MHz PCI-X slots, and 
one 33MHz 32-bit PCI slot. 

The X6DA8-G2 provides an ample 
number of RAID configurations 
through several controllers. The Intel 



ICH5R SATA Controller supports RAID 0, 
1, and JBOD arrays, and an Adaptec AIC- 
7902 Controller controls SCSI hard drives. 
With the Adaptec controller, you can use 
dual-channel Ultra320 SCSI hard drives in 
RAID 0, 1, 10, and JBOD arrays. With an 
optional Adaptec 201 OS ZCR card, Zero- 
Channel RAID is also available. 

You'll likely need a nonstandard power sup- 
ply and case for the X6DA8-G2. It has an 
Extended ATX form factor and requires a 
power supply with 4-pin, 8-pin, and 24-pin 
power connectors. A 



DIMM SLOTS (16GB REGISTERED 
DDH2-400 RAM) 



INTEL [7525 CHIPSET 



DUAL FC-MPGAH 
SOCKETS SUPPORTING 
INTEL XEON EM64T 
PROCESSORS UP TO 3.6GHZ 




Supermicro X6DA8-G2 I 


Socket Type 


Dual FC- 
mPGA4 Sockets 


Chipset 


Intel E7525 


Processor 
Support 


Dual Intel Xeon 
EM64T up to 3.6GHz 


RAM Support 


16GB DDR2 400 


RAM Slots 


8 


Graphics Bus 


PCI Express x1 6, 
PCI Express x4 


PCI Slots 


1 133MHz PCI-X, 

2 100MHz PCI-X, 
1 33MHz PCI 


PCI-E Slots 


1 x4 slot 


SATA Ports 


2 (RAID 0,1, JBOD) 


IDE 


Ultra DMA 100 


USB Ports 


8(2.0/1.1) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


Dual Gigabit 
Ethernet 


Integrated Audio 6-channel AC'97 
audio CODEC 


Integrated Graphics: No 


Other Features Adaptec AIC-7902 
SCSI RAID Con- 
troller (RAID 0, 1, 
10, JBOD) 


Manufacturer 


Supermicro 


Phone 


(408) 503-8000 


URL 


www.supermicro.com 


Price 


$600 



Supermicro P8SAA 



While Supermicro is perhaps best 
known for its workstation and server 
motherboards, it also produces a number of 
desktop boards. The P8SAA motherboard, 
which supports Socket T LGA775 Intel 
Pentium 4 processors (800MHz FSB) and 
Celeron processors (533MHz FSB), is a good 
example of such an offering. Based on Intel's 
925X (Alderwood) chipset, the P8SAA sup- 
ports a diverse selection of up to 4GB DDR2 
memory, including ECC, unbuffered ECC, 
and unbuffered Non-ECC memory. It also 
supports dual-channel memory. 

If you're familiar with the 925X 
chipset, it should come as no surprise 
that the P8SAA uses a PCI Express 
xl6 graphics slot and offers three 
PCI-E xl slots for expansion options. 
The P8SAA mobo also pays homage pci slots 
to the older PCI bus with three 32- 
bit PCI slots. 

Intel's ICH6R southbridge con- 
trols the P8SAA motherboard's four 



SATA headers and supports RAID and 1 
configurations. There is one RJ45 Ethernet 
port for Gigabit Ethernet, and an AC'97 
audio CODEC delivers 6-channel sound to 
your 5.1 speaker setup. The P8SAA mother- 
board also has six USB 2.0/1.1 ports and one 
USB 2.0/1.1 pin header that supports an 
additional two ports. A 



PCI-E XI SLOTS 



PCI-E X16 SLOT 




Supermicro P8SAA I 


Socket Type 


Socket T (LGA775) 


Chipset 


Intel 925X 


Processor 
Support 


Intel Pentium 4 
800MHz FSB, Cel- 
eron 533MHz FSB 


RAM Support 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR2-533/400 


RAM Slots 


4 


Graphics Bus 


PCI Express x1 6 


PCI Slots 


3 


PCI-E Slots 


3 x1 slots 


SATA Ports 
IDE 


4 (RAID 0,1) 
Ultra DMA 100 


USB Ports 


8(2.0/1.1) 


FireWire Ports 


N/A 


LAN 


Gigabit Ethernet 


Integrated Audio 6-channel AC'97 
audio CODEC 


Integrated 
Graphics 


No 


Other Features N/A 


Manufacturer 


Supermicro 


Phone 


(408) 503-8000 


URL 


www.supermicro.com 


Price 


$230 



212 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Tyan Tomcat K8E 



Mobo manufacturer Tyan makes a lot 
of dual-processor motherboards, 
but the company produces a number of 
single-processor boards, as well. The 
Tomcat K8E sports NVIDIA's new 
nForce4 Ultra chipset and a socket for 939- 
pin AMD Athlon 64/64 FX processors. 
There are four DIMM slots that each sup- 
port up to 1GB unbuffered DDR400/333 
SDRAM with either ECC or Non-ECC 
support. The Tomcat K8E also supports 
dual-channel memory. 

The Tomcat K8E motherboard uses a 

PCI Express graphics bus but 

also includes an ATI RAGE 
XL 8MB integrated controller 
if you'd prefer to invest your 
computing dollars in some- 
thing other than a high-end 
PCI Express graphics card. 
Two PCI-E xl slots make up 
the remainder of the PCI 
Express bus, and the Tomcat 



K8E also has four 32-bit PCI slots for fur- 
ther system expansion. 

If you have a horde of peripheral devices, 
the Tomcat K8E is ready to accommodate 
you. There are pin headers for two IEEE 
1394a ports, four rear USB 2.0 ports, and 
pin headers for an addition four USB 2.0 
ports. Dual Gigabit Ethernet ports should 
also feed your LAN party fix. There are also 
four SATA-II ports that include NVRAID 
support and a Realtek ALC655 6-channel 
audio CODEC. ▲ 



FOUR SATA PORTS 

WITH NVRAID SUPPORT 



NVIDIA HF0RCE4 
ULTRA CHIPSET 



TWO PCI-E X1 SLOTS 




Tyan Thunder K8WE 



Like the Supermicro X6DA8-G2, the 
Tyan Thunder K8WE summons the 
power of two fleet-of-foot processors to dish 
out some serious computing power. Instead 
of using Xeon processors, the Thunder 
K8WE relies on dual AMD Opteron 200 
Series CPUs (Socket 940) to handle inten- 
sive applications. The mobo uses an 
NVIDIA nForce Pro 2200 + 2050 + AMD- 
8131 chipset. 

The Thunder K8WE also has nothing less 
than an armada of DIMM slots. With four 
DIMM slots per CPU, the Thunder K8WE 

supports up to 16GB registered 

DDR400/333/266 SDRAM 
with ECC and Chipkill support. 

Two PCI Express xl6 slots 
are another highlight of the 
Thunder K8WE, and a cornu- 
copia of different PCI slots 
make up the board's supporting 
cast. There is one PCI-X 133/ 
100/66MHz slot, two PCI-X 



100/66MHz slots, and one PCI 32-bit 
33MHz slot. 

The Thunder K8WE is also a storage 
monster, with four SATA-II ports with 
NVRAID support, one dual-channel ATA- 
133 port, and an optional LSI 53C1030 
Ultra 320 SCSI controller (two ports). 

Other features include two IEEE 1394a 
ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and sup- 
port for eight USB 2.0 ports. Without inte- 
grated SCSI support, the Thunder K8WE 
carries an MSRP of $599; tack on an extra 
$148 for the SCSI controller. ▲ 



EIGHT DIMM SLOTS 

SUPPORTING 16GB 
REGISTERED D0R400/333/266 
WITH ECC AND CHIPKILL 
SUPPORT 



DIAL SOCKET 940 
SUPPORTING AMD 
OPTERON 2D0 SERIES 
PROCESSORS 

DUAL PCI E X16 SLOTS 




Tyan Tomcat K8E 


Socket Type 


S2865 


Chipset 


Socket 939 


Processor 
Support 


NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra 


RAM Support 


AMD Athlon 64/64 FX 


RAM Slots 


4GB dual-channel 
DDR400/333 


Graphics Bus 


4 memory slots 


PCI Slots 


PCI Express x1 6 


PCI-E Slots 


4 


SATA Ports 


1 x16, 2x1 


IDE 


4 SATA-II 


USB Ports 


2ATA-100 


FireWire Ports 


8 (2.0) 


LAN 


2 


Integrated Audic 


2 Gigabit Ethernet 


Integrated 
Graphics 


5.1 channel Realtek 
ALC655 


Other Feature; 


i ATI® RAGE XL™ 8MB 
integrated controller 
Power management, 
Port 80 display, ATX 
12V power, Windows 
& Linux supported 


Manufacturer 


Tyan Computer Corp. 


Phone 


(510)651-8868 


URL 


www.tyan.com 


Price 


$269 



I Tyan Thunder K8WE I 


Model Number S2895 


Socket Type 
Chipset 


Dual Socket 940 
NVIDIA nForce Pro 
2200 + 2050 + 
AMD-8131 


Processor 
Support 


Dual AMD Opteron 
200 Series 


RAM Support 


16GBDDR400/333/266 


RAM Slots 


8 (four per CPU) 


Graphics Bus 


PCI Express x1 6 


PCI Slots 


1 PCI-X 1 33/1 00/66MHz, 
2PCI-X100/66MHz, 
1 PCI 32-bit 33MHz slot 


PCI-E Slots 


2x1 6 slots 


SATA Ports 


4 SATA-II 


IDE 
USB Ports 


1 ATA-133 
8 (2.0) 


FireWire Ports 


2 


LAN 


2 Gigabit Ethernet 


Integrated 
Audio 


Analog Devices 
AD1 981 B multi- 
channel audio 


Integrated Graphics: N/A 
Integrated SCSI LSI53C1030 

Uitra320 SCSI x2 


Other Features Power management, 
Windows & Linux sup- 
ported, EPS12V power 


Manufacturer 


Tyan Computer Corp. 


Phone 


(510)651-8868 


URL 


www.tyan.com 



Price 



$749 (w/ SCSI), 
$599 (w/o SCSI) 



CPU / PCModder 213 



DDR2 For You 

The Top DDR2 Modules Currently Available 

The next-generation of memory brings with it higher speeds, lower voltages, and a new 240-pin package. We charted the cur- 
rent line-up of DDR2 modules available, while excluding manufacturers and modules that catered exclusively to OEMs. The 
majority of modules feature the timing settings, but for those that don't, we listed the CAS (column address strobe) latency. 
N/A is marked for specifications unavailable at press time. 

Compiled by Andrew Leibman 



DDR2-667 PC2-5400/5300 



ummmm 

Corsair 


1 Module Product Number 


TWI N2X1 024-5400C4PRO 

CM2X512-5400C4PRO 

TWIN2X1024-5400C4 

TWIN2X512-5400C4 

CM2X512-5400C4 


Crucial 
Geil 

Mushkin 

OCZ 

Technology 


CM2X256-5400C4 

CT12864AA667 

CT6464AA667 

CT3264AA667 

BL12864AA664 

BL6464AA664 

BL3264AA664 

GX25125300DC 

GX21GB5300DC 

GX22GB5300DC 

GX22565300X 

GX25125300X 

GX21GB5300X 

512MB PC2-5300DDR2 

1GBPC2-5300DDR2 

1GB Dual Pack PC2-5300 DDR2 

2GB Dual Pack PC2-5300 DDR2 

OCZ2667256PF 


OCZ2667512PF 

OCZ26671024PF 

OCZ2677512PFDC-K 

OCZ26671024PFDC-K 

OCZ26672048PFDC-K 



I Hi 

1GB 

512MB 

1GB 

512MB 

512MB 

256MB 

1GB 

512MB 

256MB 

1GB 

512MB 

256MB 

512MB 

1GB 

2GB 

256MB 

512MB 

1GB 

512MB 

1GB 

1GB 

2GB 

256MB 

512MB 

1GB 

512MB 

1GB 

2GB 



4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

5 

5 

5 

4-4-4-10 

4-4-4-10 

4-4-4-10 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-1 1 

4-4-4-1 1 

4-4-4-1 1 

4-4-4-1 1 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 




Bswn_______B 

Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 



E2E_^_H 


BZ_H__53 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.9V 


Non-ECC 


1.9V 


Non-ECC 


1.9V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 



1- MVI'M 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 





DDR2- 


-533 PC2-4300/4200 


__!_i 

2GB 

2GB 

1GB 

512MB 

512MB 


4 
4 
4 
4 
4 


Unbuffered 
Registered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 


1 .8V 240 
1 ,8V 240 
1 .8V 240 
1 .8V 240 
1 .8V 240 




Crucial 


>r 1 Module Product Number 


CT25664AA53E 


CT25672AB53E 


CT12864AA53E 


CT6472AA53E 


CT6464AA53E 









214 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



DDR2-533 PC2-4300/4200 (continued) 





Crucial 
(continued) 

Corsair 
Geil 


Kingston 
Mushkin 

ocz 

Technology 



Module Product Number 



CT3264AA53E 

BL6464AA53V 

BL3264AA53V 

CT16HTF6464AY53EB2 

CT8HTF3264AG53EB3 

CT8HTF3264AY53EB3 

TWI N2X1 024-4300C3PRO 

CM2X512-4300C3PRO 

TWIN2X1024-4300C3 

CM2X512-4300C3 

GX25124300DC 

GX21GB4300DC 

GX22GB4300DC 

GX22564300X 

GX25124300X 

GX21GB4300X 

KVR533D2N4/512 

KVR533D2E4/512 

KVR533D2N4K2/512 

KVR533D2E4K2/512 

KVR533D2N4/1G 

KVR533D2E4/1G 

KVR533D2N4K2/1G 

KVR533D2E4K2/1G 

KVR533D2N4K2/2G 

KVR533D2E4K2/2G 

KVR533D2N4/256 

KVR533D2E4/256 

KHX4300D2/256 

KHX4300D2/512 

KHX4300D2K2/512 

KHX4300D2K2/1G 

512MB PC2-4200DDR2 

1GBPC2-4200DDR2 

1GB PC2-4200 DDR2 Dual Pack 

2GB PC2-4200 DDR2 Dual Pack 

512MB PC2-4200 Unbuffered DDR2 

1GB PC2-4200 Unbuffered DDR2 

1GB PC2-4200 Unbuffered DDR2 Dual Pack 

2GB PC2-4200 Unbuffered DDR2 Dual Pack 

OCZ2533256V 

OCZ2533512V 

OCZ25331024V 

OCZ2533512VDC-K 

OCZ25331024VDC-K 

OCZ25332048VDC-K 

OCZ2533512EBPER2 

OCZ25331024EBPER2 

OCZ25331 024EBDCPER2-K 

OCZ25332048EBDCPER2-K 

OCZ2533256PF 

OCZ2533512PF 

OCZ2533512PFDC-K 

OCZ25331024PFDC-K 



256MB 

512MB 

256MB 

512MB 

256MB 

256MB 

1GB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

1GB 

2GB 

256MB 

512MB 

1GB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

1GB 

1GB 

1GB 

1GB 

2GB 

2GB 

256MB 

256MB 

256MB 

512MB 

512MB 

1GB 

512MB 

1GB 

1GB 

2GB 

512MB 

1GB 

1GB 

2GB 

256MB 

512MB 

1GB 

512MB 

1GB 

2GB 

512MB 

1GB 

1GB 

2GB 

256MB 

512MB 

512MB 

1GB 




4 

3-3-3-10 

3-3-3-10 

4 

4 

4 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

4 

3-3-3-10 

3-3-3-10 

3-3-3-10 

3-3-3-10 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

4-4-4-12 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

4-4-4-8 

3-2-2-8 

3-2-2-8 

3-2-2-8 

3-2-2-8 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 

3-3-3-8 



:Mi|k»=»=I' 

Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 



Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 





I7!!TEffEl 

1.8V 

1.9V 

1.9V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.85V 

1.85V 

1.85V 

1.85V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

2.0V 

2.0V 

2.0V 

2.0V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

1.8V 

2.0V 

2.0V 

2.0V 

2.0V 

1.9V 

1.9V 

1.9V 

1.9V 



IJMVt'M 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


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240 


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240 (x2) 


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240 (x2) 


240 


240 


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240 (x2) 


240 


240 


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240 (x2) 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 



CPU / PCModder 215 



DDR2-533 PC2-4300/4200 (contin 


iued) 


ITS1HHT5IH 




rnw?B 




Module Product Number 


I'MililM 


PQI 


PQI24200-2GDB 


2GB 


3-3-3-8 


Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 


2.0V 


240 (x2) 




PQI24200-1GDB 


1GB 


3-3-3-8 


Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 


2.0V 


240 (x2) 




PQI24200-1GSB 


1GB 


3-3-3-8 


Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 


2.0V 


240 




PQI24200-512SB 


512MB 


3-3-3-8 


Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 


2.0V 


240 




MAB41GUOE 


1GB 


4 


Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


240 




MAB412UOE 


512GB 


4 


Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


240 




MAB456UOE 


256MB 


4 


Unbuffered 


Non-ECC 


1.8V 


240 



DDR2-400 PC2-3200 



Manufacturer 




Module Product Number 


Buffalo 
Crucial 

Kingston 


D2R400A-ES256 

D2R400A-E512 

D2R400A-ES512 

D2R400A-E1G 

D2R400A-EF1G 

CT25672AB40E 

CT12864AA40E 

CT12872AB40E 

CT6464AA40E 

CT6472AB40E 

CT3264AA40E 

CT18HTF12872AY40EA1 

CT18HTF12872Y40EA2 

CT16HTF6464AY40EB2 

CT16HTF6464AG40EB2 

T18HTF6472AG40EB2 

CT18HTF6472AY40EB2 

CT18HTF6472G40EB2 

CT18HTF6472Y40EB2 

CT8HTF3264AY40EB3 

CT9HTF3272AG40EB3 

CT9HTF3272AY40EB3 

CT9HTF3272Y40EB2 

KVR400D2R3/512 

KVR400D2R3K2/512 

KVR400D2R3/1G 

KVR400D2R3K2/1G 

KVR400D2R3K2/2G 

KVR400D2R3/256 

KVR400D2N3K2/2G 

KVR400D2N3K2/1G 

KVR400D2N3K2/512 

KVR400D2N3/1G 

KVR400D2N3/512 

KVR400D2N3/256 

KVR400D2E3K2/1G 

KVR400D2E3/512 

KVR400D2E3/256 



256MB 

512MB 

512MB 

1GB 

1GB 

2GB 

1GB 

1GB 

512MB 

512MB 

256MB 

1GB 

1GB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

512MB 

256MB 

256MB 

256MB 

256MB 

512MB 

512MB 

1GB 

1GB 

2GB 

256MB 

2GB 

1GB 

512MB 

1GB 

512MB 

256MB 

1GB 

512MB 

256MB 


3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 
3 



IiIJJIU/JIW 

Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Unbuffered 
Registered 
Unbuffered 
Registered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Registered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Registered 
Registered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Registered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 
Unbuffered 



ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

Non-ECC 

ECC 

ECC 

ECC 




1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 
1.8V 



IJ-MllM-1 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 


240 


240 (x2) 


240 


240 



216 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



MODDING Q&A 

We Answer Your Pressing Questions 




The area highlighted in the inset shows the two chips you'll need to locate in order to volt-mod your 
ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard's memory. 



If you're not satisfied with the per- 
formance of your system, or if you 
just want to make your CPU stand 
out a little, a series of modifications 
might be for you. From cooling graphics 
cards to modifying your hard drive to 
keeping temperatures of high-speed 
memory modules down, the purpose of 
this Q&A is to give already tech-savvy 
readers a few more pointers. 

WARNING: Most of these procedures 
are fairly intrusive and complex. In some 
cases, you will need to physically alter the 
hardware in question, which will void 
your warranty. Do not undertake these 
procedures lightly. 



Q 



How can I voltage-mod 
my ASUS P4C800-E 
Deluxe motherboard's 
memory? 



A If you don't already have one, 
invest $30 in a decent multime- 
ter. You can pick one up at any 
local electronics or hardware store. It's a 
worthwhile investment, not only for com- 
puter-related mods, but for general use 
around the house. For this mod, you'll 
need to measure voltage and resistance. 
According to Ohm's Law, Voltage = 
Current x Resistance. A 0.3V increase will 
be plenty, and should result in an increase 
of about 40MHz in memory speed, as well 



as better memory timings. To increase the 
voltage by 0.3V, apply Ohm's law as fol- 
lows: The current across the two points 
discussed below will be 0.02mA. Calculate 
the resistance you'll need by dividing the 
desired voltage (0.3V) by the current 
(0.02mA), which equals a resistance of 
15,000 ohms. If math isn't your forte, you 
can buy a variable resistor from Radio 
Shack or another electronics store and 
manually set the voltage until you get the 
performance you're looking for. 

You'll need the following supplies for 
this mod: rosin core solder, a soldering 
iron, resistors, some insulated wire (any- 
thing smaller than 20GA), and your mul- 
timeter. You'll solder at least one (and 
possibly several) resistors between a spe- 
cific pin on your motherboard and a 
ground source to deliver excess voltage to 
your memory. If you can't find a single 
resistor with the correct resistance, simply 
solder several ohms each. 

Before you begin modding your sys- 
tem, boot your PC and set the memory 
voltage to its lowest setting in the BIOS. 
Turn off your computer and unplug it. 
Orient your motherboard so that the 
AGP slot is in the upper-right corner. 
You can mod the board's voltage with the 
board installed, but you should remove 
your peripheral cards before you begin. 
The points you're looking for are on the 
small chips located to the left of the AGP 
slot, as shown in the accompanying 
image. You'll attach the resistor to the 
chip on the left, specifically to the sixth 
pin counterclockwise from the bottom- 
left corner (with the dimple). The pin on 
the right-hand chip is the farthest left on 
the top. Measure the voltage across these 
two pins whenever indicated below. With 
your PC off, the meter should read 0V. 

You can either solder the connections 
we'll describe, making the mod perma- 
nent, or attach the resistor with hook 
clips to make the mod reversible. You 
can find mini hook clips (similar to alli- 
gator clips) at your local electronics 
store. To install the clips, push the but- 
ton on the end of the clip and slip the 
end over the pin on your board. If you 
don't like the mod, just unhook the 
clips — no harm done. 



CPU / PCModder 217 




Store the bottom half (left) of the hard drive in a plastic antistatic bag to keep it clean and safe 
while you work on the top half of the case (right). 



Either way, you need to make sure that 
the modifications you make don't interfere 
with any other pins or you'll short out the 
board. Solder the resistor to a length of the 
insulated wire (or the mini clips) and check 
the resistance across the resistor/wire 
assembly to make sure you're going to get 
the appropriate voltage increase. Next, sol- 
der or clip the resistor to the sixth pin and 
a ground, such as the housing of your 
power supply or your case. Once you've 
connected the assembly to the pin, recheck 
the connections to make sure they're not 
touching anything but the pin. 

Because you've set the voltage in the 
BIOS to the minimum value, the board's 
voltage should now be the minimum 
value set in the BIOS plus whatever value 
you calculated using Ohm's law. Raise the 
BIOS voltage incrementally, usually no 
more than 2 to 5% at a time, until your 
system becomes unstable, then lower the 
voltage setting to its last stable value. 

If you used the variable resistor, 
increase the resistance until you reach 
approximately 15kOhm (which you can 
check with the multimeter), and calculate 
the voltage based on the current you mea- 
sured across the pins. Don't increase the 
voltage more than 0.3 to 0.5V, or you'll 



risk damaging your equipment. Restart 
your system and raise the BIOS voltage a 
little, rechecking the voltage after startup 
with your multimeter. Continue raising 
the BIOS voltage until your system 
becomes unstable. Lower the voltage to 
the last stable value and you're done. 



Q 



What kind of cool modifi- 
cations can I make to my 
hard drive? 



A If you're adventurous you can 
add a window and even a light to 
your hard drive's case. The proce- 
dure is delicate but not impossible. You 
don't need a clean room, but you should 
do this mod in an area with as little air cir- 
culation and dust as possible. Clean your 
bench top carefully, change into some 
low-lint clothing, and make sure all 
ventilation and fans are shut off. It also 
wouldn't hurt to invest a few cents in 
some rubber surgical gloves (not the ones 
with talcum powder inside — the good 
ones) to keep the oils and skin cells from 
your fingertips from contaminating the 
inside of the drive. 

Once you've cleaned your work area, 
turn the drive on its back and remove the 



label sticker so you can get at all of the 
screws that hold the case together. 
Remove all but one of the screws, and 
then remove the tape seal (the one that 
says "Warranty Void If Opened"). Next, 
remove the final screw and gently pry the 
case halves apart with a flathead screw- 
driver and place the half of the case with 
the operational hardware (from now on, 
the "bottom" half) on the table. From this 
point on, your drive is unprotected, so 
any screw-ups will be serious. We won't 
be doing any mods to the bottom half of 
the drive, so keep it in a static-proof plas- 
tic bag for safekeeping. 

The upper case half might be embossed 
around its edge. Measure the dimensions 
of the raised area because this is where your 
window will be. Cut a piece of acrylic to fit 
inside the raised area of the case. 

Now it's time to cut the holes in the 
upper case half. You can make the win- 
dow as plain as a rectangle or as compli- 
cated as you can manage, but be sure to 
leave room around the edge of the case to 
attach the window material to it. Use a 
Dremel or similar tool to cut and deburr 
the holes. After you've smoothed the 
edges with files or sandpaper, clean all of 
the debris from the case using a lint-free 
cloth, compressed air, or even rubbing 
alcohol. Make sure the surface is free from 
dust or grease. 

Carefully glue the acrylic to the case 
half using a clear adhesive, such as model 
glue. If the glue beads from under the 
edges of the window material, don't try to 
wipe it off (it will just get worse). "Wait for 
the adhesive to dry and remove the excess 
glue with a sharp hobby knife. After the 
adhesive is dry and you have trimmed the 
excess, clean the case again before rein- 
stalling it to the bottom half of the case. 

While you're waiting for the glue to 
dry, you can install a LED inside the 
hard drive case. Using some small gage 
wire (between 12 and 20GA), you can 
solder leads to the 5V power line on your 
drive to power the light. Use your multi- 
meter to find the drive's power line. 
You'll need to make sure the voltage pro- 
vided is sufficient to power the light, 
which will vary depending on the LED 
you buy. If the output is too great, you'll 



218 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 




The top side of an AMD Athlon processor shows the location of the 
labeled L-bridges. Get ready to get up-close and personal with them. 



need to wire in a resistor to lower the 
voltage so you don't blow the LED. You 
might also need to cut holes in the hard 
drive case for the lead wires to go from 
the power source through the case. Solder 
the wires to the ground and voltage (the 
two larger pins on the back of the drive 
closest to the IDE pins) and pass them 
through the holes in the case. Once 
you've installed the wires, reseal the holes 
with an adhesive to prevent dust from 
entering the system. Solder the two wires 
to the LED (it doesn't matter which wire 
goes to which terminal). Adhere the light 
to the case surface in the corner opposite 
the arm mechanism, making sure all 
moving parts have room to move, and 
adhere all the wires to the case so they're 
out of the way. 

Reassemble the case halves and install 
the screws. To ensure a dust-proof seal, 
cover the seam between the two halves 
with electrical tape, and you're done! 
Reinstall the drive, run Scandisk, and 
enjoy your drive's new look. 



Q 



How can I change the 
LED on my optical drive? 



A Some users may want to change 
the color of the LED in their 
optical drives to better match the 
color theme of their cases. For this mod, 
you'll need a soldering iron, desoldering 
braid, rosin core solder, Phillips and flat- 
head screwdrivers, and a 3mm or 5mm 
diameter (depending on your drive) LED 
in the color of your choice. Start by 
removing the plastic faceplate from the 
front of the drive. Gently pry each of the 
plastic clips off the drive housing with 
the flathead screwdriver and slide the 
faceplate off. Remove the screws on the 
bottom of the drive with the Phillips 
screwdriver, and then flip the drive over 
and locate the solder points from the 
LED on the opposite side of the PCB. 
Use the desoldering braid to remove the 
LED from the drive's circuit board. Let 
the LED cool and bend its lead wires so 
you can slide the LED out of its plastic 
housing. Place your new LED into the 
plastic housing, rebend the leads, and 
resolder the leads into the PCB. Trim the 
excess leads below the PCB, reattach the 
bottom of the drive, and attach the plas- 
tic faceplate. Install the drive and start 
your system. 



Q 



I've tried "The Pencil 
Trick" with my AthlonXP 
21 00+, but it won't work. 
Is there anything I can do 
to unlock the multipliers 
to overclock? 



A Yes, but it's a bit more compli- 
cated than the pencil trick you've 
heard so much about. AMD has 
picked up on people filling in the 
2100 + 's LI bridges with conductive 
material and changed its manufacturing 
procedures. The L2, L6, L7, L8, and L9 
bridges are all cut in the same manner as 
before, but the L10 bridges are reversed; 
the bridge that was once open is now 
closed and vice versa. The only way 
around this problem is to trick the 
processor into thinking it's an XP 1600+. 
If your PC recognizes your processor as a 
1600+ CPU, you can change the multi- 
pliers between 6X and 12.5X. 

Before you begin, gather the following 
tools: a Dremel or other small power tool 
with an engraver that's less than 1mm in 
diameter, a nonconductive material such 
as Poly Instafil, a conductive pen such 
as this one from Circuit Specialists 
( www.web-tronics.com/2200-mtp.html ), 
Q-tips, masking tape, and rubbing alco- 
hol. For this mod, you'll engrave slots in 
the closed bridges on your CPU through 
the masking tape, and then fill in gaps in 
the open bridges with Poly Instafil and 
reconnect the bridges with the conductive 
pen. Use the Q-tips and alcohol to clean 
up when you're done. 

Let's get started. First, cover the L 
bridges that you want to isolate with 
masking tape to keep the dust down. Cut 
through the closed bridges with the 
engraving tool. Don't use a knife because 
it's not as easy to control. Next, close the 
open bridges by first filling the gaps left 
by the laser cutting with the Poly Instafil. 
Then, after that's dried, color in the 
bridges using the conductive pen, similar 
to the Athlon Pencil Trick. 

Start with the L10 bridges (each set 
of bridges should be labeled, so you'll 
know which is which). Switch the open 
bridge to closed and vice versa using the 



CPU / PCModder 219 




Use heat-shrink tubing to 
wrap the wires inside your 
case. It'll give it a clean look 
and improve airflow. 



procedures outlined above. Next, repeat 
this process with the L3 and L4. By 
default, they are set to [closed-closed- 
open-open] and [open-closed-closed- 
open], respectively. You'll change them 
to [open-open-closed-closed] and 
[open-open-closed-closed] , respective- 
ly. Making these modifications will fool 
the processor into thinking that it's an 
easily overclockable 1600+ with all the 
benefits of a 2100+. Plug in your chip 
and check the BIOS. If you've done 
everything right, you should be free to 
change the multipliers from 6-12. 5X. 



Q 



I installed a bunch of 
modded hardware, lights, 
and cooling gear in my 
system and my case looks 
like a mess. What can I do 
to keep the interior look 
ing as slick as the exterior? 



A What you need is some good 
cable management. If you've 
installed a lot of hardware in 
your computer your case most likely 
looks like a bird's nest of cables and 
wires. Keeping the tangle under control 
will not only make your case look 
neater, it will help improve airflow, 
which is always a plus. Most of these 



tips are easiest to implement before you 
assemble your system, but there's never 
a wrong time to clean up your case. 
You'll need some zip ties, heat shrink 
tubing, and rounded IDE cables for 
your optical drives and hard drives (if 
you're not using SATA drives). 

If you have a CPU cooling fan, 
this is where to start your clean- 
up. Remove the heatsink and 
fan assembly from the CPU 
and unplug the fan. Then, 
remove the Molex-style 
housing from the end of 
the fan wires by depress- 
ing the small metal tabs inside the 
housing using a micro screwdriver, not- 
ing the position of each wire in the 
connector. Slide a piece of heat shrink 
tubing over the wires and shrink it with 
a micro torch or lighter. Once the tub- 
ing has cooled, reinstall the fan wires 
into the Molex connector by sliding 
them into place. The wires will simply 
click into place. 

Apply heat shrink tubing to the bun- 
dles of wires for each fan you have in your 
system (case fans, video card fan, north- 
bridge, etc.) plus the wiring harness clus- 
ter for the power switch, reset, LEDs, as 
well as the cables from the power supply, 
removing and reinstalling the Molex con- 
nectors as described above. Make sure you 
shrink both ends 
of the tubing 
to ensure 



a tight seal and a clean look. You can pull 
all the PSU wires and Molex connectors 
around the back of the motherboard or 
between the case housing and the case 
frame to hide the unused wires. Fix them 
in place with zip ties, keeping the wire 
bundles as small as possible. Replacing the 
IDE ribbon cables with rounded cables 
will help clear airflow paths in your sys- 
tem and give your case's overall appear- 
ance a much cleaner look. 



Q 



How do I sleeve my PSU 
cables? 



A You can buy PSU sleeving kits 
from companies such as Vantec 
( www.vantecusa.com ) in a range 
of colors, some of which are UV-reactive. 
The sleeving material will stretch up to 
150% to let you slide it over any connec- 
tors on your cables. You can also remove 
the connectors if you like, using a univer- 
sal Molex pin removal tool. To start, sep- 
arate the cables you're going to wrap. For 
wires with multiple Molex connectors, 
remove all the wires from the connectors 
with a pin removal tool. Be sure to note 
which wire goes into which hole on the 
connector so you'll reattach the wires cor- 
rectly. To remove the wires, slip the pin 
removal tool into the end of the plug 
between the metal post and the plastic 
housing and push the small metal tabs in. 
Once you hear a click, the wire will slip 
right out. Bend the tabs back out slightly 
so you can reuse the connectors later. 
Cut a length of sleeving about XVi inch- 
es shorter than the wires you're 
about to cover. Slide the 
sleeving over the 
wires, 




Sleeving kits will help tidy up your 
PSU wires and give the interior of 
your case a cool look. 



220 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



then slide two pieces of shrink-wrap tubing 
over the wires so they overlap the bare end 
of the cable and the sleeving. Shrink the 
tubing over the ends of the sleeving materi- 
al and reinstall the Molex connector. Once 
you've wrapped each section of cable, you'll 
have neat, orderly power supply cables. 



Q 



How can I get more speed 
from my overclocked 
GeForce 4 video card? 



A If you've already overclocked your 
video card to the top of its game, so 
to speak, and you still aren't satis- 
fied with its performance, you can mod- 
ify the voltage provided to it by the 
power supply. Remember, though, that if 
you increase the card's voltage, it'll 
create extra heat, so you may need to 
upgrade the card's cooling apparatus, 
as well. For this mod, use a Semtech 
SCI 102 Voltage Mode Controller IC 
( www.semtech.com/products/products lin 
e moreinfo.asp?ProductlD=59 ). The 11th 
pin counterclockwise from the dot on the 
IC is the Sense pin. This pin helps regulate 
the voltage to the GPU by comparing the 
voltage coming into and going out of the 
GPU. If you connect a lead from the Sense 
pin to a ground such as your case or the 
housing of your power supply through a 
potentiometer, the signal will weaken and 
more voltage will be supplied to the GPU. 
The potentiometer will let you adjust the 
voltage sent to the GPU. You can get 
adjustable potentiometers from any elec- 
tronics store. Solder the red wire from the 
video card to the middle lead on the poten- 
tiometer, and then solder either of the 
other two leads on the potentiometer to 
any ground in your PC. Set the poten- 
tiometer to its maximum resistance 
before turning on your PC, or you will fry 
your card. 



Q 



Do I have to buy rounded 
IDE cables? 



A No. If you don't want to buy 
rounded IDE cables, or if you 
can't find ones in colors you 
like, you can round off ribbon IDE 



cables. Start by carefully cutting the 
plastic between groups of wires on the 
cable. You can cut between every wire or 
every 10 to 15 wires, or just about any- 
where in-between, depending on how 
small you want the cable to be. Make a 
small incision between two wires and 
pull the cable, which will tear the plastic 
between the wires (it's just like pulling 



two speaker wires apart). Once you've 
made all the slits in the cable, bundle it 
up and bind the cable together with 
electrical tape in whatever color you 
choose. You can also wrap the cable in 
spiral wrap. 



Q 



How do I add a LED to my 
power supply? 




Make a short slit between every other wire in the cable with a knife, then split the cable the rest of 
the way with your fingers. Next, wrap electrical tape tightly around the wires. In the end, you'll 
have a neatly rounded cable. 



CPU / PC Modder 221 




If you want a quieter case, try an aftermarket 
heatsink such as this one from Zalman. 

A The basic procedure for this mod is 
similar to that for the optical drive, 
but there are a few differences. 
Remember that whenever you work with a 
PSU, you need to be careful. Your power 
supply contains capacitors that will give 
you quite a nasty shock even if it's been 
unplugged for an extended period of time. 
Also, you'll need to add some resistors to 
keep the LED from exploding due to the 
PSU's high voltage. Before you begin, 
you'll need some 20GA wire, wire strip- 
pers/cutters, a LED of your choice (note 
the voltage and amperage for later), resis- 
tors (discussed below), a Phillips screw- 
driver, rosin core solder, a soldering iron, 
heat shrink tubing, some adhesive (such as 
clear epoxy), and a lighter. 

Start by cutting two pieces of wire, each 
about 1 ^-inches long. Strip about W-inch 
of the insulation off each end. Solder a wire 
to each of the LED wires and shrink some 
heat shrink tubing over the solder points 
with the lighter. You'll solder the LED to 
the +5V line of your power supply so, using 
Ohm's Law from above (Resistance = 
Voltage/Current) and the voltage and 
amperage of your LED, calculate the resis- 
tance needed to bring the supply voltage 
to the correct level. For instance, if you 
have a 1.7V LED that operates at 0.02A, 
the resistance will be 165 Ohms: (5V - 
1.7V)/(0.02A) = 1650hms. Try to get a 
resistor or series of resistors with a total 
resistance slightly greater than what you 
need (180Ohms in this case) or you risk 
blowing the LED. Solder the resistor to the 



positive LED tail (marked on the LED) 
and cover all but the very end of the resistor 
wire with heat shrink tubing. 

Remove the screws holding the case of 
your power supply together and slide the 
top cover off, being very careful not to 
touch the capacitors. Remove the PCB 
and discharge the excess charge by run- 
ning a screwdriver with a plastic handle 
over the side of the PCB with the solder- 
ing points. 

If you want the LED to be on regard- 
less of whether or not the computer is on, 
locate the +5V supply line (the purple 
wire). If you want the LED to be on only 
when the PC is on, locate one of the red 
+5V lines. Locate the solder point of the 
supply line you're going to use on the 
bottom of the PCB and solder the posi- 
tive tail (the one with the resistors) of the 
LED here. Solder the other LED wire to a 
black (ground) solder point on the PCB. 
Reinstall the PCB into the power supply 
housing and use the epoxy to fix the LED 
to one of the grates in the power supply 
housing. Close the power supply housing 
with the screws you removed before and 
you're done. 



Q 



The noise level coming 
from inside my case is 
unacceptable. What can I 
do to quiet my system 
down? 



A First off, you should accept the 
fact that you can't just cover up 
PC noise. There are products on 
the market designed to muffle the sound 
coming from your PC. In most cases, 
these products are some kind of foam 
pad cut to fit inside your case. Such a 
product will insulate your case to keep 
the noise in, but it will also keep heat in, 
turning your PC into an oven. You 
should stay away from these products. 
Instead, focus on eliminating the source 
of the noise. There are several sources of 
noise in your PC: the CPU fan or cool- 
ing system, the video fan or cooler, the 
power supply, case fans, hard drives, and 
optical drives. 

The CPU fan is the loudest compo- 
nent in most cases. Most OEM CPU fans 



are designed with size and performance in 
mind, so they have to be small and still 
perform well. The smaller the fan gets, 
the faster it must spin to achieve appro- 
priate flow rates. Most stock fans are 
around 60 or 70mm in diameter and spin 
at 4,000 to 5,200rpm to achieve flow 
rates between 12 and 16CFM (cubic feet 
per minute). Fans that spin this fast pro- 
duce noise from 20 to 40dB. If you 
increase the size of the fan to between 80 
and 120mm, your fan can produce 30 to 
43CFM running at 1,000 to l,200rpm, 
producing noise from 15 to 20dB. A 
sound of 20dB is almost inaudible to 
human hearing. 

To cool video cards quietly, the first 
thing that has to go is the tiny fan on 
your card. Try to find an aftermarket 
video card cooler with a large fan and, if 
possible, a heat pipe. When it comes to 
heatpipes and heatsinks, the more sur- 
face area (fins) the better. Regardless of 
what kind of video card you use, you 
should be able to find a good (and quiet) 
cooler for it. 

If you need extra case fans, you can 
find some designed to run silently, or 
nearly so, at normal temperatures. The 
same parameters apply as above. Add as 
few fans as possible and install the largest 
fans you can find. A 120mm fan will give 
you the airflow rate of three 60mm fans 
at almost half the decibel level. There 
really is no correlation between flow rate 
and decibel level, so you'll need to check 
the information provided with the fan 
you're looking at. For instance, at the top 
of the line, a 120mm diameter Panasonic 
Panaflo fan ( www.panasonic.com/indu 
strial/appliance/appliance fans panaflo 
axial.htm ) will output 68.9CFM at a 
speed of l,700rpm, yet only create 30dB 
of noise. 

Modders know that regardless of the 
challenge facing them, where there's a 
will, there's a way. The above questions 
and corresponding answers should help 
you squeeze a little more power out of 
your system or make it a little quieter, or 
at least make it look better. Which is 
what modding's all about, right? CPU 

by David Miller 



222 CPU / www.computerpoweruser.com 



Manufacturers & Products Index 



A 

ABIT 

AA8DuraMAX,48,49 
AG 8, 34 
AV8-3rd Eye, 74 
Fatality AA8XE, 

168, 196 
FataMtyANS, 196 
IC7-Max3, 166 
NF7-S, 165, 167 
AeroCool 
GateWatch, 139 
Albatron 

GeForce 6800, 100 
PCX 5300, 81 
AMD 
Athlon 64 2800+, 

117,152 
Athlon 64 3800+, 68- 

70,72 
Athlon 64 FX-53, 74, 

76,78,94,112 
Athlon 64 FX-55, 5, 15 
AthlonXP2100+,219 
AthlonXP2800+,117 
Sempron 2800+, 56-61, 

117 
Sempron 31 00+, 62, 

64-66 
AOpen 
1855GMEm- 

LFS, 197 
N250a-FR,197 
Apollo 

GeForce4MX440-8X,82 
Arctic Cooling 
NVSilencer3, 143, 144 
Asetek 
WaterchillKT012-L20, 

134-138 
Waterchill VGA Cooler, 

145 
ASUS 

A7N8X-X, 162 
A7V8X, 165 
A8N-SLI Deluxe, 198 
A8V Deluxe, 76, 94, 112 
Extreme AX800XT 

/2DT, 100 
K8VSE Deluxe, 62, 66 
P4C800-E, 217 
P5AD2, 54, 55, 
P5AD2 Deluxe, 121 
P5AD2 Premium, 97 
P5AD2-E Premium, 198 
P5GD2 Deluxe, 46, 47 
SK8V, 112 
ATI 
PowerColorX300SE,91 



RADEON 9600SE, 92 
RADEON X700 

PRO, 100 
RADEON X800 PRO, 

101 
RADEON X800 XT 

Platinum Edition, 

101 
RX330, 193 

B 

Biostar 

K8NHA Grand, 199 
P4TAW Extreme, 

199 
Bonzai-mods 

Master Works Dragon, 

184 
Tribamental 

Flames, 184 

C 

Chaintech 
SE6600G, 102 

V91P Zenith VE, 52, 53 
V925XE Zenith VE, 200 
ZNF3-250, 200 
Chaintech NVIDIA 
GeForce FX5700 LE, 

83 
GeForce PCX 

5900, 121 
CoolerMaster 
Aerogate3, 139, 140 
AquagateALC-1101, 

135-138 
Coolmax 
PSU.151 
Corsair 
ValueSelect PC2-4200, 

121-126 
XMS2 5400 

DDR2, 23 
XMS2xtreme 

Performance Twin2X- 

5400,123-126 
Crucial 
PC3200, 110, 111 

D 

DFI 

LANPARTY 

925X-T2, 201 
LANPARTY NFII Ultra 

B, 58, 59 
LANPARTY UTnF3 

250Gb, 201 

E 

Elitegroup 

KV2 Extreme, 202 



PF21 Extreme, 202 
Enermax 
Ultimate Controller 

(UC-A8FATR4), 140 
Epia 
VIA V1 0000 

Mini ITX, 163 
EPoX 

EP-5EPA+, 203 
EP-8HDA3+, 153 
EP-9NDA3+, 203 
EP-K8DA3+, 62 
Evercool 
WC-1 01, 136-138 
eVGA 
e-GeForce 6800 

Ultra, 103 
GF 6800 GT, 102 
NVIDIA GeForce 

FX5200, 84 

F 

FIC 

KTMNF3-Ultra, 204 
P4M-915GD2,204 
Foxconn 
915M03- 

G-8EKRS2, 38, 39 
FrostyTech 
NoiseControl Magic 

Fleece, 149 

G 

Gainward 

Golden Sample 

Ultra/1 100 XT 

GeForce FX 

5900XT, 152 
NVIDIA GeForce FX 

5200, 85 
Powepck! Ultra/ 

1760PCX 

TV-DVI,104 
GeCube 
ATI RADEON 

9550, 87 
GelL 

PC2-4300, 121-126 
PC2-5300, 123-126 
GIGABYTE 
GA-8ANXP-D,42,43 
GA-8AENXP-D, 205 
GA-8l915GPro,50 
GA-K8NSNXP-939, 

78,112 
GA-K8NXP- 

SLI, 205 
GV-RX60P128 

DE, 105 
K8NNXP-940, 112 



H 

HIS Digital 

Excalibur 9250, 88 

I 

Innovatek 

Cool-Matic FX Rev. 1 .0, 

144 
Intel 

910GL, 193 
91 5G Express, 192 
915GV Express, 192 
915P Express, 192 
925X Express, 17, 192 
925XE Express, 192 
Celeron, 115 
Celeron D 335, 116 
D875PBZLk, 164 
D925XEBC2, 206 
D925XECV2, 206 
E7320, 193 
E7520, 193 
E7525, 193 
Pentium 4 2.8A, 116 
Pentium 4 2.8B, 116 
Pentium 4 2.8C, 116 
Pentium 4 2.8E, 116 
Pentium 4 520, 116, 

121 
Pentium 4 540, 32, 36, 

34,37 
Pentium 4 550, 38-43 
Pentium 4 560, 44-49 
Pentium 4 Extreme 

Edition 5, 16, 

50, 52-55, 97 
Xeon,120 

J 

Jetway 

865PBAP, 207 
917GBAG,207 
Jetway ATI 
RADEON 9200 

LE, 89 
RADEON 9550 

(256MB), 90 

K 

Kingston 
HyperX PC2-4300, 

121-126 
ValueRAM PC3200, 

110,111 
ValueRAM PC2-4200, 

121-126 

L 
Lian-Li 

PC-61, 152, 153 
Logisys 



3D Edge Fan 

Blue LED Kit, 144 
Blade, 183 
Blade 2, 183 
PunisherCCFL, 184 
Smiling Skull, 184 
Spider, 183 

M 
MSI 

915GCombo-FR,44,45 
915PNeo2 Platinum, 

40,41,208 
925X Neo Platinum, 36, 

37 
GeForce MX4000- 

T128, 86 
K7N2 Delta2 Platinum 

Edition, 60, 61 
K8N Neo2 Platinum 

Edition, 72, 208 
K8TMaster2-FAR, 112 
K8TNeo2-FIR, 70, 112 
Mushkin 
PC2-4200, 22, 121-126 

N 
NexusTek 

DiskTwin, 156 
NVIDIA 

GeForce 6800 Ultra, 106 
nForce4 MCP, 20 



ocz 

PC2-4200, 121-126 
PC2-5400DDR2,21 

P 

PCChips 

TidalwaveT18,209 

TidalwaveW32,209 

PolarFLO 

TT Series Universal 

VGA Water Block, 

144, 145 
PQI 
PowerMemory PC2- 

4200, 121-126 
TurboMemory PC2- 

5400, 123-126 

s 

Silverstone 

Eudemon, 140, 141 

SiS 

SiS649, 18, 193 

Soltek 

SL-915Pro-FGR,32, 

210 
SL-K890Pro-939,210 



SL-K9Tpro-939, 68, 69 

SOYO 

Dragon 2 875P 

Platinum mobo, 163 
KT880 Dragon 2, 56, 

57 
SY-K8USA Dragon 

Ultra Black Label, 

62, 64, 65 
SY-KT600 Dragon Plus 

v.2.0,211 
SY-KT880 Dragon 2 

v.2.0,211 
Spire 
CoolForceCF201-NEB, 

145 
Sunbeamtech 
Blue Unreal 

Tournament, 183 
Counterstrike, 183 
Half Life EL Wire, 184 
Red LED, 183 
Sunbeam Round 

CCFL, 184 
Supermicro 
P8SAA,212 
X6DA8-G2,212 

T 

ThermalTake 

Aquarius III, 136-138 
Extreme Giant III Video 

Cooler, 145, 146 
Tyan 
Thunder 

K8WE,213 
Tomcat K8E, 213 

V 

Vantec 

Tornado fan, 148 

Ultra Thin 
Aluminum Hard 
Drive Cooler, 156 

VIA 

K8T890 chipset, 19 

VL System 

L.I.S. 2 Indicator 
Premium, 141,142 

W 

Wireless Garden 

Super Cantenna, 187 

Z 

Zalman 

Noiseless VGA 
Heatpipe Cooler 
ZM80C-HP,146 

Reseratorl, 137, 138, 
151 



CPU / PC Modder 223 








Doomed PC? 



Doom 3 Inspires A Sinister System 



We started this issue with a 
small-form-factor mod based 
on Half-Life 2, and we'll 
wrap things up with another game-inspired 
mod. We saw several Doom 3 case mods in 
the last half of 2004, but the smallest was 
Johan Grundstrom's Doom 3: Hell Inside 



system, which started as a simple Shuttle 
SK83G barebones system. Despite its 
name, this mod seems anything but 
doomed, with its AMD Athlon 64 3400+ 
CPU, BFG GeForce 6800 GT video card, 
Black Ice Micro radiator, Laing D4 pump, 
DangerDen NV-68 and TDX blocks, and 



Vantec Tornado 80mm fan. The mod took 
two months and hundreds of hours to 
complete. Torn mesh, Milliput sculpting, 
and a Doom-worthy paint job finished the 
mod. See the full worklog at www.mashie 
.org/casemods/d3 01.html . \*2iU 







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